CFB Player Bracket: Charles Harris vs. Dawuane Smoot
Today’s first-round matchup is a border war between Missouri’s Charles Harris and Illinois’ Dawuane Smoot — two of the top defensive ends in college football. Both players’ schools have strong recent histories with putting defensive linemen in the NFL, and these two could be even better than the players that have preceded them.
The case for Charles Harris
Kony Ealy (60th pick in the 2014 NFL draft), Shane Ray (23rd in 2015) and Markus Golden (58th in 2015) were all excellent defensive ends at Missouri, and while the trio has enjoyed varying degrees of early success during their NFL careers, Harris is likely to end up the highest pick and projects to be the best of the group, both this year and beyond.
As our Gordon McGuinness displayed last week, Harris was a productive pass rusher as a red-shirt freshman in 2014 despite yielding the majority of snaps to Golden and Ray. As a full-time starter in 2015, however, he significantly improved his run defense and was one of the most productive pass rushers in the country (56 total pressures).
As is generally the case with well-coached Missouri defenders, Harris last year showed the ability to defeat blockers with a wide variety of moves, not just his speed and explosiveness off the edge. His excellent hand usage consistently kept blockers off-balance and put him on the attack, and entering his second season as a full-time starter he is only going to improve with more reps.
Harris posted the eighth-best pass rush productivity mark for returning 4-3 defensive ends in FBS last season, and ranked 18th in run stop percentage, and considering the talent around him on Missouri’s defensive line (Terry Beckner and A.J. Logan graded fourth and fifth respectively last year among returning SEC defensive tackles), Harris is likely to see another huge jump in production this season.
The case for Dawuane Smoot
Illinois has also made it a habit of putting blue-chip defensive linemen into the NFL as of late, as Chargers DE Corey Liuget (2011) and Houston OLB Whitney Mercilus (2012) were both first round selections. Smoot is likely to do the same, as he is one of the best pass rushers in not just the Big Ten, but in all of college football.
Smoot was inconsistent the first month of the 2015 season, but after a breakout performance against Iowa in week six (eight total pressures, three stops), he was the highest-graded EDGE player in FBS for the remainder of the regular season. He registered 49 total pressures over the final seven games of Illinois’ season, compared to 11 during the first five. He played his best against Ohio State in week 11, posting 10 total pressures against the Buckeyes.
Looking significantly bigger than the 6-foot-3 265 lbs. he is listed at, Smoot has the strength to consistently shed blocks on the edge and a motor comparable to the one that made Mercilus such a productive player when he was in Champaign.
Smoot ranked fourth in FBS last season among 4-3 ends in pass rush productivity (first among returning players), but only 50th among returning ends in run stop percentage, despite having a positive grade. Like Harris, Smoot will need to continue to show improved play against the run in 2016.
The Verdict: Charles Harris advances to the next round
On paper, Smoot graded higher against both the run and pass, but Harris gets the nod because his film is simply better. While Smoot generally won with power and effort off the edge, Harris displayed an array of weapons in his arsenal rarely seen from upperclassmen at the college level, let-alone redshirt sophomores. He beat blockers not just with strong hands, but also with quickness and speed off the snap, athleticism and polish Smoot just can’t match at this stage.
While there is no reason to suspect Smoot won’t continue to improve his game and be a consistently productive player, Harris’ situation in Missouri puts him in the best position possible to live up to his immense talent. Harris posted four games of at least seven pressures last season (compared to two by Smoot), as well as 40 defensive stops to Smoot’s 24, and with Missouri’s superior talent throughout the rest of its offensive line, he should be an even more dominant force in 2016.
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