PFF’s Top 101 of 2014: No. 4, Chris Harris Jr.

Claiming the top position among NFL cornerbacks, Chris Harris Jr. also finds his way into the Top 5 of the PFF 101.

| 1 year ago

PFF’s Top 101 of 2014: No. 4, Chris Harris Jr.

2015-101-top10-harrisThere 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.


Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam



| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN.

  • Ben Richman

    How often was Harris going up against #1 WRs? Looking at his coverage rating in a vacuum seems ridiculous, especially when you’re comparing it to guys who routinely matched up with top receivers.

    • Chris

      There are only a select few CBs who “routinely match up with top receivers”.

      That was for 2013, but it basically said Harris played LCB most of the time and mans the slot.

      % covering a #1 WR:

      Harris: 32%
      Sherman: 27%
      Revis: 49%
      Haden: 65%
      Peterson: 55%
      Joseph: 57%
      Talib: 53%

      • Ben Richman

        Point taken, but you can’t really compare 2013 and 2014. Broncos secondary changed when they got Talib.

        Regardless, a #2 CBs responsibilities are not the same as a #1 CB. The fact that Harris’ role as a #2 wasn’t pointed out in this article seems highly suspect.

        • bobrulz

          Who says that Harris is Denver’s #2 CB??

          • Ben Richman

            His usage and the depth chart suggest that Talib is #1 and Harris is #2.

          • Malachi

            talib is more like our number 3, with bradley roby an ascending star. talib’s size just means we put him on the bigger WR’s, but not necessarily better WRs

          • Ben Richman

            In 2014, Talib played 112 more snaps than Roby. Harris played more snaps than Talib, but that’s due almost entirely to the fact that Talib missed time with injury. For most of the season, Harris was clearly the #2.

          • Malachi

            i know, i’m projecting my feelings tho, lol

          • PFFSamMonson

            I don’t think that’s true at all. Plenty of teams don’t really play #1 corner, #2 corner etc. Especially when you have a guy who can play the slot, you’re going to play matchup fooball. Harris saw plenty of time covering guys like Keenan Allen, T.Y. Hilton, Harvin, Decker etc, and was unquestionably the leader and top guy in that secondary, including getting other people lined up right and issuing coverage instructions to teammates on the field.

          • Anonymous

            Yet in the biggest game of the season they chose NOT to use Harris on Hilton. He’s a zone corner, and an even bigger zone corner than Sherman because they play even less cover 1.


            Now I’m not saying he’s not good at what he does because he’s great at it, but again his job is easier than Revis’s, or Haden’s for example. He has limitations that prevent him from playing press man which is why they don’t use him that way. Not true lockdown to me.

          • PFFSamMonson

            He is NOT simply a zone corner. Denver play plenty of man and Harris does well when they do.

            What are the limitations that prevent him from playing man? Because they do run man and he doesn’t get exposed when they do.

        • eYeDEF

          Yes, Harris does benefit playing in Denver’s 7 man zone if that’s what you’re getting at. This is to take nothing away from how well he plays his role, he’s a fantastic technician. But his responsibilities are far less expansive in a 7 deep zone and he isn’t as adept in man situations. Sherman also gets a rap for being a zone corner, but the criticism against Sherman is far less warranted since he has an 80% success rate on man coverage snaps vs Harris’ 65% success rate in man according to Football Outsider’s Cian Fahey’s film breakdown of CHJ.

          • anon76returns

            Funny thing about Cian Fahey- it’s a very Celtic sounding name. Now if you’ll scroll up to the top of the page, where there’s the orange ‘play’ button to listen to PFF’s reasoning for rating CHJ as the #1 CB in the league, you’ll notice the guy has a lilting Irish accent. That’s your man Cian Fahey, telling you who the #1 CB in the league was. Lean on the article he wrote for FO back in December all you want, at the end of the season Fahey was unambiguous with his appraisal. And you can hear it with your own ears.

          • eYeDEF

            I’m sure he was unambiguous with his appraisal. CHJ is an outstanding CB. What’s your point? And what does his ethnicity have to do with anything?

          • anon76returns

            His ethnicity (name and accent) was what might have clued you in to the fact that the voice that said “CHJ is the best CB in football” on this page was the same guy who’s article you were trying to use to suggest that CHJ was not the best CB in football.

          • eYeDEF

            Like I said, he’s fantastic at the role he plays. Fahey said the same thing, which is why he played the best last year. Doesn’t matter that that the article was from December, there’s been no more football for CHJ since then so nothing’s changed. Fahey was able to provide much deeper play by play analysis, as he does in all his breakdowns, than what he says on a podcast. Nuance matters. But it doesn’t change the fact that there’s no contradiction here. You’re taking offense when none was given.

    • Mike Oswald Jorgensen

      Really Harris lined up more against number one receivers than Sherman and close to the same percentage as Revis, he routinely lined up against the best pass threat over 65% of the time all while playing against tight ends and slot receivers which takes away from his percentage of covering a number one, even tho covering slot is the toughtest position in the secondary. How many times did Revis, Sherman, Peterson, or even Haden do that. His stats standup better than almost everyone in almost every category and he played more snaps than most of the top corner 8 months removed from an ACL injury while doing it with less Safeties than Revis or Sherman

  • Chris

    Harris has been Denver’s #1 since the decline of Champ Bailey, dont let Talib being on the roster fool you

  • Malachi

    pound for pound one of the best!

  • Malachi

    denver’s strength and conditioning staff, esp couch luke are the best in the world. two top 10 players both coming off ACL tears in december or later.

  • Rick S.

    What makes Harris unique is that he can also play in the slot which is difficult in that there is much less opportunity to play with contact and no boundary to assist in coverage which makes for higher percentage passes for the offense. This could explain the 80/65 Sherman comparison.

    Harris is easily Denver’s best corner and I was very surprised that he re-signed mid-season for much less than he could have got in the open market.

  • Jason Williams

    was harris on the field for rahim moore’s gaffe that cost the broncos the playoffs vs the ravens?

    • Mike Oswald Jorgensen

      Nope that was Carter