As we approach free agency, the needs that the Patriots will want to address in the draft will be more clear, but as of now it appears that EDGE rusher will be on the list. Both Chris Long and Jabaal Sheard are unrestricted free agents, and even if one of the two comes back, adding a young talent who can really get after the quarterback across from Trey Flowers would be a good idea.
A team can never have too many pass rushers, and considering no-one on the Patriots cleared 7 sacks last season, adding a young talent early in the draft sounds like a smart strategy in an extremely talented, top-heavy EDGE class. While we could see anywhere from 6-10 EDGE players go in the first round this April, there should still be plenty of talent at the position to choose from when the Patriots pick at 32.
With that being said, lets get into a player who fits the mold formed above.
Charles Harris, EDGE, Missouri
Charles Harris, a redshirt Junior, is listed at 6’3”, 255 lbs. Harris burst onto the scene in his 2015 season, compiling 18.5 tackles for loss, including 7 sacks and being named second team all-SEC. This year he added 9 sacks on 12.5 tackles for loss, being named second team all-SEC again, but struggled to adapt to a new system more than the numbers would suggest. He was born in 1995, though the exact date is something I couldn’t find, so he is either 21 or a very young 22.
Harris gets a great burst off the line of scrimmage, and his initial hand placement when making first contact with the blocker is very good. He has a nice bend, with very flexible hips. When the play is run away from him, he shows off his high motor by chasing down the play, almost to a fault sometimes as he can become susceptible to counters and crash too far inside, losing contain.
He provides a variety of moves, whether it’s a speed rush to the outside, converting speed to a bull rush, or a swim move. His best move, however, is his spin, which he uses as his inside counter a good deal. When he is asked to drop into coverage he shows the athletic ability to mirror the running back and effectively defend the flat. In terms of being a pure pass rusher, Harris is one of the best in the draft.
As mentioned above, Harris has a tendency to crash the line too hard, creating a soft edge that running backs and quarterbacks can bounce around, taking him out of the play and getting them into the second level. He shows flashes against the run, but he doesn’t have the strength needed to set the edge consistently, even when he doesn’t over-pursue.
There was a drop-off from his 2015 play to his 2016 play, despite similar numbers. Missouri hired a new defensive line coach, and he was already fired after one year. While not being “coachable” enough could be a concern, that is something teams can figure out in interviews. He still showcased his 2015 ability when given the chance, so 2015 being a flash in the pan isn’t a real concern.
In 2016, playing LSU, Harris (last down lineman to the top of the screen) gets inside leverage on the left tackle, crashes down on the running back while holding the tackle off with one arm, and eventually makes the tackle, even though it was 10+ yards downfield. The start of the play is what’s noteworthy here rather than the result of it, as Harris showed a nice ability to get underneath the tackle and diagnose the play quickly.
Here, in the same LSU game, this play is a weird one. The left tackle crashes in and leaves Harris with a wide open lane to the QB, who has to quickly get rid of the ball. While this play doesn’t tell us anything about his pass rushing moves or ability to beat a block, two things are noteworthy. First, his jump off the line and speed to the QB. Secondly, the vicious hit to finish off the QB even though he was a split second late on the sack.
In 2015 against Florida, Harris can’t finish the sack, but once again shows off his burst off the line, as well as his inside spin move counter. The quarterback had to get rid of the ball extremely quickly because Harris provided almost immediate pressure.
Harris shows off his coverage ability, reading his key (the running back) and following him into the flat. He mirrors the running back in coverage, and takes away the quarterbacks checkdown, forcing him to switch to the other side of the field, in a play that eventually ended in a sack.
Once again, he brings out the spin move and absolutely torches the blocker, this time ending in a sack. His ability to perform the spin move without losing any speed or momentum to his target is extremely impressive. It’s one of the best pass rush moves any prospect in this class has.
Still in the Florida game, this highlights the only serious issue I have with Charles Harris’ play. He crashes hard on the handoff, setting his edge too far inside, and the running back is able to bounce outside and get into the second level. If Harris had set his wall at the proper depth, this is a 3-yard gain at absolute best.
Back into 2016, Harris shows off what everyone loves to see out of their EDGE rushers: bend. He uses his burst off the line to beat the Vanderbilt left tackle, and then bends the pocket while maintaining his speed to finish off the sack.
Lastly, another example of Harris’ ability to bend the outside. He gave Vanderbilt’s tackle fits for the entire game, and even though he was wrapped up around the shoulders, he manages to turn the corner and still get a hit on the quarterback, an easy sack if he wasn’t so blatantly held.
If Harris was off the board by the time the Patriots picked, it wouldn’t be shocking in the least. The hope, however, is that with the depth of the EDGE class, and the overall talent in this years class, Harris might just fall. If he does, the Patriots should pounce on him. While he wins in a different way than this player does, he would be a very suitable replacement for Chandler Jones.
The Patriots might not love his run defense, but they will love his motor while they teach up his run-game technique and get great value as a pass rusher from day 1. If he’s on the board when the Patriots pick, there aren’t too many other guys—if any—that I would expect to be there and take over Harris.