The New England Patriots, who will be off until training camp starts in late July, currently have 90 players on their active roster. However, only 53 of them will be able to survive the cutdowns on August 31 and ultimately make the team. Over the course of the summer, we will take a look at the players fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots defend their Super Bowl title.
Today, the series continues with one of New England’s draft choices this year.
Name: Damien Harris
Position: Running back
Jersey number: TBD (offseason #53)
Size: 5’11, 215 lbs.
2018 review: After electing to return to school for his senior season instead of entering the NFL’s 2018 draft, Damien Harris proven himself the best running back at Alabama. A powerful runner with the football in his hands, he appeared in all fifteen of the Crimson Tide’s games and led the team in both rushing attempts and yards gained on the ground: Harris carried the football 150 times for 876 yards as well as 9 touchdowns.
While the Kentucky native saw a dip in efficiency in 2018 compared to his previous two seasons, he also was trusted with a more prominent role: after spending his 2016 and 2017 campaigns as more of a rotational option — one that still averaged 140 carries, 1,018 rushing yards, and 6.5 touchdowns per season — behind Jalen Hurts, Harris was Alabama’s lead back during his senior year and became a player defenses were able to focus on more.
Despite the numbers not looking quite as good as they did the last two years, Harris still proved himself a capable back. The All-SEC second-team selection showed that he can handle the strains of being a work-horse runner, was reliable both when it came to gaining positive yardage on a consistent basis, and was also able to take care of the football: Harris did not fumble the ball even once during the 2018 season.
In fact, he fumbled just three times over the course of his four-year college career. All in all, his 179.7 touches per fumble rank him second among all Alabama running backs under head coach Nick Saban (2007-). On top of it all, Harris also proved himself serviceable as a pass catcher out of the backfield during his final year in school — he caught 22 balls for 204 yards — as well as a pass protector if asked to do so.
Needless to say that Harris entered the draft process as a potential early-round option: while he may lack explosiveness and may be best suited for a rotational and situation-specific role, he still showed a lot as a trustworthy running back coming from the nation’s best college football conference.
2019 preview: Harris’ NFL journey began when the Patriots selected him in the third round of the draft — despite already fielding one of the deepest and most talented backfields in all of football. The rookie should be able to carve out a role within it nevertheless, and will therefore likely see considerable playing time as the 1B running back option in New England behind 2018 first-round selection and 1A ball carrier Sony Michel.
Such a rotational usage would allow the Patriots to a) take advantage of Harris’ strengths as a powerful between-the-tackles runner, and b) simultaneously keep Michel fresh. As a result, it would not be a surprise to see New England use the 87th overall selection of this year’s draft in a specialized role — possibly as a goal-line and short-yardage back and a clock-killer somewhat in the mold of former Patriot LeGarrette Blount.
Harris would also serve as injury insurance for Michel, of course, something he already showed during New England’s offseason workouts: with the lead back missing the final portion of OTAs as well as all of minicamp due to a knee injury, Harris saw plenty of practice reps as the next man up. Ideally, however, Michel will stay healthy throughout the year with Harris being a role player alongside him. But if push comes to shove, the rookie should be capable of adequately filling Michel’s shoes.