Pass Rush Remedy: Scouting Dolphins’ No. 22 Pick Charles Harris

Coming into the 2017 NFL Draft, one of Miami’s most important missions was to find its premiere pass-rusher of the future. It appears they’ve found their man.

With the 22nd pick in the draft, the Miami Dolphins passed over a number of other talented youngsters in order to claim the services of Missouri’s Charles Harris. The team even reportedly declined several offers to trade back that could have potentially yielded more draft capital. However, it certainly seems like they got the man they wanted. While some draft experts and talking heads were lukewarm on the selection, the reception by analysts has been generally positive.

 

Strengths:

In my opinion, Charles Harris is best described as a high-floor kind of prospect rather than one with a particularly high ceiling. His lackluster combine performance casts some doubt on his ability to become a true game-changer, but his numbers and tape paint a different story. Over his last two seasons, he totaled 16 sacks and 30.5 tackles for loss in college football’s best overall conference. Certainly no stats to scoff at. But how does he fare on game film, and can he help the team win?

Charles Harris is an excellent, pure pass-rusher. While his straight-line speed isn’t particularly noteworthy, his short-area quickness and flexibility allow him to beat heavy-footed offensive lineman both on the interior and the outside:

Good bend-dip

His body-control allows him to use his quick step to take very favorable angles against both tackles and guards in order to get to the quarterback. He’s also not a one-trick pony in regard to his pass-rushing techniques. Many young pass-rushers that come into the NFL have a major learning curve when it comes to mix ups to throw off better offensive lineman; Charles Harris is not among them.

He has a nose for the quarterback and a high motor, especially when a potential sack is on the line:

Good job in pursuit

His willingness to pursue the ball carrier extends to the running game, where any missed tackles are certainly never for a lack of effort. He has a high football IQ, which works well with his quickness off the line of scrimmage. He has a keen understanding of what he needs to do in the majority of the pass-rushing situations that he has performed in:

Good control to stick with QB

All in all, his quickness off the line of scrimmage, sizable cache of pass-rushing techniques, versatility to attack in different positions, and solid football IQ lead me to believe that Charles Harris has the tools to be a good situational rusher from day one. Personally, I find him very comparable to his former teammate and current Denver Bronco Shane Ray.

Weaknesses:

A relatively poor showing at the combine has created much concern as to Charles Harris’ ability to develop into a star pass-rusher at either the 3-4 linebacker or 4-3 defensive end positions. While this is troubling, I’m not one to put too much stock into workout numbers. To me, most of Charles Harris’ more glaring weaknesses come as a result of overcommitting as a pass-rusher. In these events, his agility becomes a handicap. He is often slow to react to option plays or fakes and needs to figure out a balance between patience and agility at the next level:

Bad decision

He also lacks the size and tenacity to be a consistent run-stopper. His tackling technique leaves much to be desired; he needs to learn to wrap up tacklers more consistently and effectively. He takes his lunch money as a quarterback’s night terror, but struggles to plug gaps and loses positioning against exceptionally strong offensive linemen:

Taken right out of the play

While weakness against the run may not be damning as a situational pass-rusher in the NFL, Harris’ positioning on early downs as a run-stopper needs improvement if he is to become an every down player:

Doesn't set himself up well

While the former Tiger looks like he can be a solid situational pass-rusher from day one, improvements in his read and react ability, tackling, and strength conditioning are probably needed if he is to live up to his lofty first round aspirations.

 

Fit with the Dolphins:

While I’m sure many would have preferred a more immediate need like cornerback or inside linebacker, the Dolphins were wise to find a potential heir to Cameron Wake sooner rather than later. As I’ve said numerous times throughout this article, Charles Harris should find time as a situational pass-rusher in his rookie season. While in an ideal world he would be able to unseat both Andre Branch and William Hayes sooner rather than later, Harris’ struggles against the run cast doubt on this possibility. While time at training camp could very well do wonders, Harris is best suited to learn from one of the best in Cameron Wake. He should fill in nicely as an alternate to Wake as the season goes on, especially if rest for a deep playoff run is in the cards. His lack of top tier athleticism does cast some doubt on his viability as a true heir to Cameron Wake, but I’m optimistic that he will improve on an NFL workout schedule.

When he’s opposite Cameron Wake and playing alongside Ndamukong Suh, Charles Harris will have the opportunity to test his pass-rushing skills 1 v. 1 while his All-Pro teammates shoulder the load. Overall, Harris is in the perfect spot to learn this season and should improve as a pass-rusher and overall defensive end behind a number of excellent veteran tutors. While his impact this season may only yield a few sacks, he is certainly in a position where steady improvement down the road is a serious possibility. While many fans may be upset that their first round pass-rusher doesn’t have elite athletic ability, they can take solace that he has polish, experience, and the perfect soil to grow into his own behind one of the best in the business.

 

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