The Chargers may have missed out on the Tom Brady sweepstakes, hear my opinion and me rant about that here, but they made one of the bigger splashes in Free Agency with the signing of former Bronco, Chris Harris Jr.
Tom Telesco worked some magic and was able to get Harris Jr. on a two-year deal for only $20 million.
— ig: josinaanderson (@JosinaAnderson) March 18, 2020
There were reports that CHJ was offered more money by other teams, specifically the Raiders, but he ultimately chose the Chargers. In a time where the Chargers have received plenty of backlash from fans, and the media, this speaks volumes about the future of the franchise and current state of the football product.
Harris has played his entire career for the Denver Broncos, and year after year is considered one of the best shut-down corners in the game. So what does he bring to LA and what will his role look like?
Glad you asked, let’s get into it.
So let’s start with the role that CHJ will have. Harris Jr. has been considered one of the best CBs in the game for quite some time, but his greatness covering the slot is second to none. The Denver secondary had quite the overhaul last season, and Harris Jr. saw his role shift to a primarily outside cover corner. In fact, in 2018 his slot percentage was 44.8% compared to a drastic drop to 3.1% last year, according to PlayerProfiler.com. His snap share also increased from 90.9% to 94.8%, which was number one in the league, essentially meaning that he never left the field.
So before we get into his stats and PFF grades from 2019, it should be noted that he was essentially asked to play a new role, in an entirely new defensive system (Vic Fangio became the new head coach in 2019). Overall, he was still one of the better DBs considering what role he was asked to play, but by his standards had somewhat of a down year.
His overall grade, according to PFF.com was 69.9, good enough for 34th out of 113 qualifying CBs, and the lowest of his career. His run defense grade was 82.8, good enough for 3rd out of 113. CHJ has been one of the surest tackling Corners in the game for the entirety of his career, and that did not change last year.
His coverage grade is what took the biggest hit, dropping to 66.8, 41st out of 113. He allowed a passer rating of 109.4 when targeted in 2019, which was the highest of his career. In 2018, he allowed a rating of 64.6, which was the 2nd lowest of career. In 2019, he only had 40 snaps in the slot, the only season of his career with fewer than 300 slot snaps. Since 2011, he is PFF’s number one graded CB in coverage when lined up the slot. When lined up on the outside, over that same span, he is PFF’s number six graded CB in coverage.
What does all this data say? Chris Harris Jr. is a very good corner and can be a highly productive player wherever he is on the field, but clearly he is DOMINANT covering the slot. When he joins the Chargers, I would fully expect him to go back to playing primarily that role and making plays all over the field.
This immediately raises the question, “What about Desmond King?”, who is primarily known for his prowess in the slot. A great question, but first let’s look at what Chris Harris Jr. does well and then we can dive into answering that.
You will be hard-pressed to find a better tackling CB than Chris Harris Jr.
On this play, Harris Jr. is almost 10 yards away from receiver Chris Conley. As soon as the ball leaves Mahomes’ hand, he explodes to the receiver. He is still almost five yards away when Conley has the ball in his possession. He meets him head-on, wraps up, and mitigates the play to a minimal one-yard game. A lot of CBs miss this one-on-one open-field tackle. Chris Harris Jr. rarely ever does.
This was a huge 4th-and-1 play in the AFC Championship game. He reads the play perfectly, explodes to the ball, and takes Julian Edelman down behind the line of scrimmage. These are the kind of shutdown plays that the Chargers can expect out of CHJ, especially if he plays primarily once again from the slot.
Aggressiveness / Break On The Ball
As a DB in today’s NFL, it is very difficult to be aggressive without getting flagged, and yet it is necessary in order to combat big, athletic receivers and tight ends. The AFC West has some really good receivers, and some elite tight ends and CHJ is no stranger to any of them.
For some reason, that is very strange to me, a lot of defensive coordinators continue to ask a linebacker to cover tight ends. Some of the elite linebackers are up to the task, but for the most part, tight ends in 2020 are just too fast and athletic for a backer to cover.
By playing in the slot, Harris Jr. has been asked to take on this task often.
Not only does he blanket Travis Kelce on this play, but you can see his aggressiveness as he runs with him step for step. He is able to anticipate his break and beat him to the ball breaking up the pass. With players like the aforementioned Kelce, Darren Waller, and Noah Fant, you can expect Harris Jr. to shadow them at times due to his aggressive style and ability to break on the ball on short and intermediate routes.
Here is another example of his tremendous break on the ball.
He broke on the ball before the ball was even out of Flacco’s hand.
And this one may be a bit more painful to watch, but the point remains.
Unbelievable anticipation, and a poorly thrown ball quite frankly, and you get another game-changing play. When the defense can turn the field and even put points on the board, your team becomes extremely dangerous. This is what Chris Harris Jr. will bring to the secondary, especially from the slot.
This is pretty obvious and evident from all of the other examples and skillsets that CHJ indicates but just wanted to state it again. While he doesn’t necessarily possess crazy measurables, hence why he went undrafted, he does demonstrate quickness and keen awareness.
Once again, CHJ breaks on the route with insane anticipation, breaks up the pass, and then has the recognition to haul in his own tipped pass for the interception. A great play by a great player that will make the Chargers that much better in 2020.
So now that we have established the type of player that Chris Harris Jr. is and what role we expect him to play, let’s see if we can answer the question as to what is to happen to Desmond King? The answer may be not as difficult as you think, and could actually aid in his development.
In 2018, King had a slot rate of 59.5%, good enough for 3rd among CBs (even higher than Chris Harris Jr.), and his snap share was 73.4%. Last year, King saw his slot rate drop to 50.1%, and his snap share fell to 59%. Part of this was due to the myriad of injuries suffered all over the Chargers defensive backfield, and part of this was due to a down year compared to a career year in 2018.
The positive is that 2019 proved that King does have the ability to play all over the field (maybe just not as a punt returning moving forward). I don’t think adding Chris Harris Jr. will necessarily keep King off the field. Harris Jr. should play the primary slot role, but both guys can play wherever is needed. You always take talent over scheme fit and then make the scheme fit the talent and player skillsets. King can play outside, inside, or wherever needed, and he will not have the same pressure that he had last year to perform.
The Chargers defensive backfield is better today with Chris Harris Jr., and Desmond King is still a big part of its success.