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The expectations of greatness along the defensive line are high at Missouri, with five Top 60 picks coming from this position since 2011. Harris, a two-time Second Team All-SEC pick, looks primed to continue the Tigers' pipeline.
With Shane Ray (Denver Broncos) and Markus Golden (Arizona Cardinals) playing ahead of him, Harris had to wait his turn. He redshirted in 2013 and only saw spot action a year later, starting one game (when Golden was injured) and finishing the season with a total of 19 tackles, including four for loss and two sacks. He rewarded the Tigers for their patience in 2015, however, erupting for 56 tackles, including an SEC-best 18.5 tackles for loss and seven sacks as a redshirt sophomore, his first season as a full-time starter.
The health-related retirement of Gary Pinkel, however, pushed his former defensive coordinator Barry Odom into the head coaching role. His choice at defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross brought with him more of a gap-control (rather than penetrating) scheme to Missouri in 2016. Undersized for this role, Harris not surprisingly struggled with the adjustment early in the year. With Harris and the Tigers as a whole struggling in the midst of a 4-8 season (including 2-6 in conference), Odom switched back to the aggressive attack for which he helped make Mizzou famous. Harris' production rose again and he ultimately finished with a career-high 63 tackles and eight sacks, with 5.5 of them coming in November.
Harris announced his decision to forego his senior season and enter the 2017 draft shortly after the season ended.
STRENGTHS: Whether out of the two or three point stance, Harris fires off the ball, giving would-be blockers a legitimate speed threat to worry about. His burst forces tackles wide and Harris complements his speed with an effective spin counter back inside, showing lateral agility and balance. He locates the ball quickly and pursues the ball with passion, including far downfield. Harris looks comfortable rushing the passer out of the two point stance and can flip his hips and change directions quickly, demonstrating the kind of athleticism to potentially handle some linebacker duties, as well. Harris wins with his explosive burst and agility to elude pass blockers but he's also surprisingly strong, keeping his butt low and his limbs locked out to anchor in the running game. He latches onto ball-carriers attempting to run past him, showing the strength to pull them down while fending off blockers. Harris has gained approximately 25 pounds of muscle since signing with Missouri as a highly regarded two-sport (basketball and football) athlete.
WEAKNESSES: Harris lacks the ideal length and twitchy change of direction that gives top NFL offensive tackles problems. He played heavier in 2016 and lost some of the quickness which made him so productive. Lacks the bulk to play regularly inside at the NFL level. While athletic, Harris struggled with cut-blocks, failing to recognize them quickly enough and too often getting knocked to the turf. Further, Harris' pad level is a bit inconsistent and when he loses the leverage battle he can get knocked off the ball.
IN OUR VIEW: A lack of production early in the 2016 season left Harris being unfairly criticized by some but his talent did not just simply disappear. While perhaps lacking elite length and fluidity, Harris is a proven pass rusher with the initial quickness and complementary moves to extend Missouri's impressive NFL pipeline, projecting as an immediate impact threat off the edge.
COMPARES TO: Cliff Avril, Seattle Seahawks: A decade before Mizzou took over as an underrated producer of NFL defensive linemen, it was Purdue sending the likes of Akin Ayodele, Shaun Phillips, Ray Edwards, Rob Ninkovich, Avril and Ryan Kerrigan, among others. The 6-3, 260 pound Avril posted impressive statistics throughout his career at Purdue but slipped to the third round of the 2008 draft in part because of his lack of ideal size and questions about his fit in the NFL. Since, his initial quickness and array of pass rush moves have translated into 73 career sacks and 29 forced fumbles over an nine-year career for the Detroit Lions and Seahawks.