17 Jul RealSport Top 100 NFL Players of 2017: #14 – Chris Harris
Article by Anthony Reiner Wood | RealSport101.com (View original article here)
Back in April of 2016, former San Diego Chargers running back LaDanian Tomlinson said that “there are no shutdown corners in this league”. Well, it’s safe to say that Chris Harris Jr. did not agree.
The very outspoken Denver Broncos corner and Super Bowl 50 winner was not afraid to defend his fellow corners, as well as himself from being relegated from that ‘shutdown’ level. However, unlike all others on his list, it is just he who is within out top 15 players.
The All-Pro and Pro Bowl corner had another stellar year. After going two straight years without conceding a touchdown pass between 2013 and 2015, it looked near impossible to one-up that performance. How wrong I was. The 28-year-old, famously vocal both on and off the field, is as ferocious and hard working, as he is endlessly talkative. His game stats speak for themselves, allowing just 63 combined tackles, two interceptions, were key to the Broncos famed ‘No fly zone‘ – the league’s best secondary which, in 2016, allowed just 185.8 passing yards per game.
But the stats simply don’t do “talkative 2-5” and his abilities justice. This feisty, driven corner is one of, if not the best in the league, and RealSport explains why.
As the game has evolved, so have defenses. To accommodate the change in offensive styles to a far more pass heavy game and one full of varying options and unpredictable receiving threats at times (look no further than defensive end JJ Watt lining up as a receiver in 2014), defensive coordinators have come up with a solution: The slot corner. What this implies is an inside cornerback.
This is where Harris comes into this mix. His role as a slot corner, lining up on the inside of the field to cover whichever receiver has lined up on the inside. The reason this role is so crucial and yet so tough to master is its requirements. You must be quick and agile to keep up with potential deep threats or option routes, a good run defender in case of a rushing play, and intelligent enough to spot and read any possible changes in the play in the blink of an eye. All of this, from one man is hard enough, especially when one minute he has to man cover someone like undersized but pacy receiver Julian Edelman, and the next he could be covering man mountain tight end Rob Gronkowski.
Take for example his play in the second quarter of their Week 13 matchup away against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With 1:21 to go, Harris lines up as one of five defensive backs in the Broncos backfield, just inside of their widest corner on the left. As the snap is called, he motions backwards slightly, watching the play develop. As this happens, Jaguars TE Neal Sterling initially fakes acting as a blocker on the Jags right side of the O-line, before pulling out far right as an extra receiver for QB Blake Bortles. It’s at this point where Harris is able to read the play and sprint for Sterling. In approximately two seconds Harris is able to change direction, sprint 14 yards and tackle Sterling for a gain of just three yards.
If this doesn’t demonstrate his off the ball work rate and ability to read the plays develop, I simply do not know what will.
Take for example his interception against the Carolina Panthers in Week 1. This is a prime example of this seemingly inconspicuous figure popping up when it matters most. Harris lines up wide right on a base defense. He lines up initially with enough room to allow his man, Kelvin Benjamin, room to run and so he can assess his route. As Benjamin approaches and Harris see’s the QB’s intent to aim for Benjamin, he rushes in.
This is where his skills as a press coverage corner come in. There are few better in the league when it comes to pressing their man. Harris will interrupt and invade every inch of personal space any receiver has to disturb/defend the pass. In this case he is able to bat it up int the air before collecting it on his chest on the ground for a turnover. Not only was he able to stop a strong QB/WR duo from connecting, but he was able to react quickly enough to collect the ball in the split second that it rises and falls. What’s more, this also demonstrates that not only is he capable of marking players in the shorter drives, but his deep threat coverage is second to none.
Shutdown or not?
Okay, so perhaps by the initial definition of a shutdown corner he doesn’t quite measure up. But, taking into account modern guidelines on holding and tackling, he is as close to the real thing as you’re ever likely to find. As part of this formidable Broncos backfield, it is easy to see why this versatile veteran is our top ranked corner.