PFF’s Top 101 of 2014: No. 4, Chris Harris Jr.
There are two cornerbacks in the Top 10 of this PFF Top 101 and both players have a good case that they are the most underappreciated player in the NFL. Both have been playing exceptionally well for some time now and have been given relatively little recognition for it, while the focus instead is on the big names of Darrelle Revis and Richard Sherman.
Chris Harris Jr. may have earned himself a healthy new contract last season in Denver, but what he was able to do in 2014 coming off a torn ACL was little short of mind-blowing.
If the season Darrelle Revis has in 2009 was the single best year we have seen from a cornerback in the PFF era – and it was – then Harris in 2014 got as close to it as anybody has come, and did it despite tearing his ACL in the playoffs the previous year. He came into this year just eight months removed from that injury and yet finished the season with a monster coverage grade and statistics that rivaled anybody.
He was thrown at 89 times during the season but did not allow a single touchdown. He allowed 46 receptions (51.7%), but those catches went for an average of just 7.7 yards per catch and he wasn’t beaten for a pass longer than 22 yards all season. He notched three interceptions and 10 passes defensed, and when thrown at he yielded a passer rating of just 47.8.
Those raw coverage numbers compare pretty closely to Sherman. They are better in all areas than Revis, and when you combine both of those two coverage grades they only just top the +27.2 that Harris was able to post on his own.
Harris has become one of the league’s best corners, and he has that ability to play the slot as well as cover outside that some find so vital to being a top corner in this league.
When you look at just snaps covering the slot, only Revis fared better in terms of yards surrendered on a per-snap basis and Harris was comfortably better than the next-best player.
Harris may not have the stature of some of the other top corners, at just 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds, but he doesn’t suffer for the relative lack of size. He has shown the ability to play at a high level in both man and zone coverage, in the slot and on the perimeter, and is remarkable only for his consistently impressive play. In 17 games this season, Harris earned a positive coverage grade in every single one of them.
He was beaten for more than 50 yards just once when he allowed 53 yards on nine targets against Buffalo in Week 14. In that game he also notched an interception and the longest pass he gave up was just 12 yards. On three occasions during the season he blanked the opposing quarterback on throws into his coverage, and on two more occasions he allowed yardage in the single digits.
Perhaps the reason Harris remains so underrated is that he has no signature calling card to his name. Revis was the cornerstone that allowed Rex Ryan to construct an elaborate and unusual defense in New York, and allowed Bill Belichick to be similarly creative this season in New England. Richard Sherman has been brash and had huge signature plays in the playoffs to get his recognition on the biggest stage.
Harris has never been used as creatively as Ryan or Belichick used Revis, and he isn’t the masterful self-promoter that Sherman is. He sticks to the old attitude of letting his play do the talking. Unfortunately, in today’s NFL, that doesn’t necessarily get you ahead, and Harris’ understated excellence hasn’t been enough to get him the recognition he deserves. Last season he was truly excellent. Better than Darrelle Revis. Better than Richard Sherman. Better than Joe Haden, Patrick Peterson or any other cornerback that has been in the conversation for best in the league.
Chris Harris Jr. was the best cornerback in football over the 2014 season, and deserves his space firmly inside the Top 10 of the PFF Top 101. The fact he was able to do it coming off a torn ACL only adds to the magnitude of the achievement and the recognition that his achievements should be receiving.
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