3 reasons Najee Harris might be the best RB Nick Saban has ever recruited
Nick Saban knows how to recruit exceptional running backs. He has landed the likes of Joseph Addai, Mark Ingram, Trent Richardson, T.J. Yeldon and Derrick Henry.
Those players headline a list of some of the best high school prospects over the past two decades, but a new name is making a case to jump to the top of that list.
Najee Harris might just be the best running back prospect to sign with Saban. The 5-star back is the nation’s No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 and some consider him to be the best player coming out of high school.
With a prospect rating of .9982, Harris is the third-highest-rated prospect Alabama has signed under Saban and the top-rated running back. Harris is much more than just hype, however, and he’s got the substance to justify his recruiting ranking.
Here are three reasons Harris might be the best running back that Saban has ever signed.
Elite blend of size and speed: It’s no secret that Alabama running backs can usually run through or around any defender. Harris is no different, but he might have the best mix of size and speed.
At 6-foot-3 and 226 pounds, Harris is similar in size to Henry. Although Harris is roughly 15 pounds lighter than Henry was during his Alabama career, his 4.66 40-yard dash time is faster than the Heisman Trophy winner’s 4.72 coming out of high school.
When evaluating Harris, the recruiting experts at ESPN were similarly impressed by his physical prowess.
“Rare combination of size and explosiveness at the running back position,” ESPN wrote in its analysis. “Strong, muscular frame that could add another 10-15 pounds and retain current quickness and overall speed which is at a premium level.”
If what they say is true, Harris has the potential to develop into a player with Henry’s size and more speed. That’s not anything SEC defenses want to handle.
Versatility in running style and potential usage: Saban’s offenses have largely relied on a downhill, power run scheme. For that reason, many of the Tide’s backs have been punishing runners who rip through arm tackles before hitting another gear.
While Harris has the size to do that, what truly makes him unique is his agility and elusiveness. In small spaces, he can make defenders miss with a sudden jump-cut or quick burst and change of direction.
all I have to say about this kid Najee Harris 'C/O 17 | out of Antioch, Ca is SUPER TALENTED / SUPER GIFTED https://t.co/HgNwctPn2u
— SPOTLIGHT BALLERS (@spotlightballer) January 26, 2017
His style of play has parts of Yeldon’s evasiveness and Richardson’s incredible balance. There is not a moment when Harris isn’t in full control of his body and ready to make an unexpected move.
Harris is also an adept receiver, who should be on the field for all three downs. If he wasn’t such an incredible running back, Harris could easily be a top wide receiver. His agility is apparent when running routes, and Harris attacks the ball in the air with sure hands.
Erik Richards, the All-American Bowl national recruiting director, spoke with Bleacher Report about Harris’ receiving ability, and he was very complimentary.
“What he’s going to bring, more so than Derrick or Bo (Scarbrough), is his ability to catch the ball,” Richards told Bleacher Report. “Anybody who has watched him in a seven-on-seven event knows he doesn’t drop anything. He kind of goes up for it like (Clemson receiver) Mike Williams. Najee attacks the ball no matter where it’s at, and he’s very fluid.”
Proven product: A lot of recruiting can be based on a prospect’s potential. With Harris, he’s already proven to be a high school legend.
In three seasons of high school football in California, Harris ran for 7,783 yards and 92 touchdowns while averaging a whopping 9.8 yards per carry, according to MaxPreps. Those numbers place him ahead of former standout prospects like Damien Harris, Scarbrough and Richardson. Only Henry’s stats are superior, but upon closer inspection, it gets a little more interesting.
Harris did not become a featured starter at Antioch High School until his sophomore year, while Henry was his team’s lead back as a freshman and finished his career with 12,124 yards. Over their final three seasons, however, Henry gained 9,659 yards and 127 touchdowns to Harris’ 7,783 yards and 92 touchdowns.
Henry amassed those numbers with a much higher number of carries, though. The former Alabama running back carried the ball 1,084 times in his final three years of high school, including 462 carries as a senior, while Harris was given the ball 788 times.
If Harris’ average yards per carry are extrapolated to match Henry’s total carries, he would have gained 10,623 yards in that 3-year period. Harris averaged a touchdown nearly every 8.5 carries, which would have given him 127 scores on 1,084 rushing attempts.
This comparison isn’t meant to diminish Henry’s high school career, which is one of the all-time best, but merely to establish that Harris might have been equally, if not more, productive had the two backs switched places.
Projecting careers is a risky proposition, and there are more than a fair number of highly-touted prospects who haven’t panned out. Saban has a successful track record in identifying and grooming star running backs, however, with a number of exceptional players occupying the position at Alabama.
Harris has drawn comparisons to Henry, Leonard Fournette and Adrian Peterson, which aren’t easy expectations to meet. Given his physical tools, versatility and production, however, he could very well end up in that conversation.
For now, he’ll have to settle for being the best running back that Saban has ever recruited.
All rankings courtesy of 247Sports Composite
William McFadden covers the University of Georgia and the University of Alabama for Saturday Down South. For insight on these two SEC powerhouses, follow him on Twitter @willmcfadden.