James Harrison still performing at high level
Think back to Super Bowl XLIII in February 2009, right before halftime: Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison made arguably one of the most memorable plays in the game’s history, intercepting Cardinals QB Kurt Warner and returning it for a 100-yard touchdown as the second-quarter clock expired. Harrison was 30 years old, helping the Steelers to the franchise’s sixth Super Bowl.
Fast-forward to today, and (albeit with brief detours in Cincinnati and retirement) Harrison is still with Pittsburgh. Along with PFF’s No.2 ranked 3-4 defensive end Cameron Heyward, Harrison is leading a revitalized Steelers’ defense that is currently fifth in the NFL in points-per-game allowed (18.0).
Harrison’s journey from NFL stardom, to retirement, to now vital contributor at the usually long-gone age of 37, is an amazing one. Undrafted out of Kent State in 2002, Harrison bounced around with the Steelers and Ravens practice squads, and even spent time in NFL Europe with the Rhein Fire before finally being signed by the Steelers and making the roster in 2004. In his first three years with Pittsburgh (2004–2006), Harrison was primarily a special teams contributor, and only started eight games over that three year period. Then, in 2007, after Joey Porter was released, Harrison was named the starter; he then put together an impressive five-year run of consistently stellar play (the numbers below do not include postseason games):
|Year||Games played||3-4 OLB positional rank||Total QB pressures||Sacks|
In 2012, Harrison played in 13 games with declined performance. After that season, Pittsburgh released Harrison. Then, in 2013, he played only 383 snaps for the Cincinnati Bengals (compared to 1022 with Pittsburgh in 2010), and many thought Harrison was done when he announced his retirement in August 2014. However, with injuries mounting for the Steelers in the beginning of last season, they brought Harrison back into the fold.
Since then, he has proven that there is definitely something left in the tank. In fact, Harrison is playing at a level not duplicated by someone at the LB position his age during the PFF era. Let’s compare him to two other long-time standout players at the LB position who played their last season at age 37—London Fletcher and Ray Lewis.
|James Harrison||2015 (six games)||37||+13.6||251|
It’s quite evident that Harrison is not just getting a paycheck and participation trophy this season—he is excelling. With Le’Veon Bell performing as the best RB in the league, and Ben Roethlisberger close to returning, if Harrison and the rest of the Steelers’ defense can continue its solid play, the 6-0 Bengals may have a challenger for AFC North supremacy.