With opening day still more than two months away and the mandatory portion of the initial wave of offseason workouts over, we have entered the more quiet parts of the NFL offseason. However, while the football world seemingly turns slower these days it does not stop.
During workouts and studying sessions, players still have a chance to lay the foundation for their spots on the team. Over the course of the next few months, we will take a look at the men fighting for them on the 2017 New England Patriots. 53 of currently 90 players will be asked to help the team defend its Super Bowl title.
Today, we will continue the series with the newest member of the Patriots’ defense.
Name: David Harris
Jersey number: 51
Opening day age: 33
Size: 6’2, 250 lbs.
2016 review: In 2016, 10 seasons into his career with the New York Jets, former second round pick (selection #47; 2007) David Harris was still going strong. Despite being the oldest member on a defense that finished just 28th in points allowed (25.6/game), he had another solid and productive campaign as a starting linebacker as well as a team leader on and off the field.
Overall, Harris appeared in 15 of the Jets’ 16 games last season – only the second time in his career that he failed to appear in every one of his team’s games. The veteran was still able to play the second-most defensive snaps on the team (900 of 1,037; 86.8%) and finished as New York’s leader in tackles with 94. Business as usual for a player that has accumulated more than a 1,000 stops over the course of his career.
Harris, who was a starter at inside linebacker in the Jets’ 3-4 defense, also registered a half-sack and two quarterback sacks and defended two passes. And despite losing a step when compared to his early 2010s prime, Harris still performed well against both the pass and the run. Analytics website Pro Football Focus consequently named him the 35th best linebacker of the 2016 season.
However, his productivity and role within the defense were not enough to keep the Jets from ending his tenure prematurely: On June 6, the team let its long time team leader go to free up an additional $6.5 million in salary cap space. However, Harris was not between jobs for too long as the Patriots signed him to a two-year, $5.0 million contract in mid-June.
2017 preview: While his contract details have not yet been made public, Harris is projected to be a roster lock based on the rough outline of the free agency deal he signed with the Patriots. As a result, he will join the returning corps of Dont’a Hightower, Elandon Roberts, Kyle Van Noy and Shea McClellin as the linebackers expected to be on New England’s 2017 53-man roster.
Despite being the newest addition, Harris will be the group’s oldest member. As such, and given the quality around him, it would not be a surprise to see the Patriots employ the 33-year old slightly differently than the Jets did: While New York used him as a three down defender, New England might opt to use Harris in a more specialized way; possibly as a base and early down linebacker playing opposite Hightower.
Used in a rotational role, Harris would naturally play fewer snaps when compared to his last few seasons. And while conditioning has never been a problem for the veteran, he and the team would both benefit from keeping every member of the linebacker rotation as fresh as possible throughout the season while using Harris in a way that fits his strengths – his intelligence, instincts and technique.
All in all, Harris has the skill set to become an impact player as an interior linebacker in New England. Only time will tell how he adapts to the change of scheme and scenery, though, and whether or not he will go the way of successful veteran offseason acquisitions like Brian Waters or Andre Carter.