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Steelers take RB Harris

NFL draft

Alabama running back Najee Harris (22) runs against Florida during the second half of the Southeastern Conference championship NCAA college football game, Saturday, Dec. 19, 2020, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Steelers are turning to Alabama star Najee Harris to give their running game a jolt.

The Steelers selected Harris with the 24th overall pick Thursday night, confident he can help a rushing attack that finished dead last in the NFL in yards rushing in 2020.

Harris ran for 3,843 yards and 46 touchdowns in four seasons with the Crimson Tide, including 26 last fall while helping Alabama to the national title. The 6-foot-1, 232-pound Harris is also a capable receiver out of the backfield, catching 43 passes for 425 yards and four touchdowns as a senior.

Pittsburgh is looking to maximize whatever time left it has with veteran quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. The 39-year-old restructured his contract to ensure he would be back for an 18th season and Harris provided the opportunity to grab a player who could make an immediate impact.

The Steelers went 12-5 last year but wilted down the stretch, dropping five of their final six, including a blowout loss to Cleveland in the opening round of the playoffs. A running game that struggled to generate much of anything allowed defenses to tee off on Pittsburgh’s short passing game.

Harris’ arrival could go a long way to fixing the offense’s most pressing problem. He is the first running back taken by the Steelers in the first round since they selected Rashard Mendenhall in 2009 and just the fifth running back taken in the first round since 1970.

Rudolph gets extension

The Steelers signed backup quarterback Mason Rudolph to a one-year contract extension through the 2022 season.

The team made the move just moments before the start of the 2021 draft, indicating they will not be shopping for veteran Ben Roethlisberger’s replacement with the 24th overall pick.

Rudolph, a third-round selection in 2018, has played in 15 games for the Steelers, most of them in 2019 when Roethlisberger went down with a right elbow injury at halftime of Week 2. Rudolph is 5-3 as a starter, completing 176 of 283 passes for 1,765 yards and 13 touchdowns and nine interceptions.

Rudolph was entering the final year of his rookie contract. The extension gives the Steelers a bit of continuity at the position with Roethlisberger perhaps entering the final season of his career.

Roethlisberger turned 39 last month and adjusted his contract in March to make it more salary cap friendly, though his status beyond 2021 is uncertain. The Steelers also brought back third-stringer Josh Dobbs on a one-year deal and signed 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins to a one-year deal in January.

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