Najee Harris: Buffalo Bills NFL Draft Targets

The Buffalo Bills have one of the best offenses in football. Armed with a franchise quarterback in Josh Allen, a superstar wide receiver in Stefon Diggs, and a great supporting cast, Buffalo has the talent to match up with just about any offense in the league. However, their running game could use a boost, and several NFL Draft analysts have connected Buffalo with running back Najee Harris. Would the Alabama product be a good fit for the Bills, and is he worth the high draft capital?

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Should the Buffalo Bills Draft Najee Harris?

If selected, Najee Harris would easily be the best running back on the team. The 6’-2”, 230-pound running back is an absolute freak of nature, serving as one of the better athletes in this class. The Alabama product knows how to use his elite traits, as he finished the 2020 season with 1,466 rushing yards and a staggering 26 touchdowns. Neither Zack Moss nor Devin Singletary were capable of matching this production in college, and clearly aren’t the same type of runners as Harris.

This was more than just a one-year fluke, as Harris proved he was a legitimate running back in the 2019 season. During his Junior year, Harris recorded 1,224 yards and 13 touchdowns on an impressive 5.9 yards-per-carry. Most expected him to declare for the NFL Draft after that impressive season, and he probably would have been one of the first two or three running backs off the board.

Harris is more than just a two-down runner, as he also has the skills to make plays in the passing game. Over the past two seasons, Harris has recorded a combined 70 receptions for 729 yards and 11 touchdowns. While these numbers don’t exactly jump off the page, it’s worth noting that he maintained this target share despite sharing the field with guys like Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs, Jaylen Waddle, and Devonta Smith. He looked great as a receiver, and that skill should translate to the next level.

Why the Bills Shouldn’t Take Najee Harris

Based on current NFL mocks, Harris is expected to go off the board sometime between the late first and early second round. If this happens, that means the Buffalo Bills would need to use the 29th overall selection to take the running back. As great as Harris is, he simply isn’t worth that type of investment.

Najee Harris is a better runner than both Moss and Singletary, but that doesn’t really matter in today’s NFL. Rushing production is heavily influenced by blocking and play-calling, and the actual person carrying that ball really doesn’t have that much to do with team success.

As seen from the graph above, there are only a handful of running backs that even move the needle one way or the other, and even the ones that fall away from the trendline tend to have a reason for it. Cam Akers, for instance, fumbled at the one-yard line and absolutely destroyed his season-long EPA. Take out that play and he falls right in line with everyone else.

Najee Harris is good, but he’s not a transcendent talent. Unless he is literally the undisputed best running back in the NFL, there is no reason to expect him to produce notably better than Moss or Singletary.

Buffalo Bills Running Backs in the Passing Game

Of course, running the ball is only one part of the running backs job. The best players at the position are also capable of making plays in the passing game, and Harris is an above-average receiver. However, running back targets are, on average, far less efficient than targets to wide receivers and tight ends. Unless you have Alvin Kamara, you probably don’t want to devote too many targets to your running back. One could argue that adding Harris could indirectly make the offense worse, as Harris could be taking targets away from Cole Beasley and Gabriel Davis (Stefon Diggs’ target share is very safe).

Even if you believe that Najee Harris is on Kamara’s level as a receiver, his receiving prowess would be wasted with the Buffalo Bills. Throughout his first three years in the league, Josh Allen has been one of the most aggressive throwers in the league. While he did tone it down a bit in 2020, the fact remains that he does not like to check down to the running back. This is both a blessing and a curse for Buffalo, as some of his best and worst plays are directly tied to his willingness to sling the ball down the field.

No matter who the running back is, they won’t be seeing too many targets from a quarterback this aggressive. A fully healthy Zack Moss is more than capable of handling this low-volume role, and Buffalo would be better off using their top pick to bolster the defense or the offensive line.

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