The New England Patriots’ draft was one full of surprises, and among those is the team’s decision to invest two selections in the running back position. The second of those picks was used to bring South Carolina junior Kevin Harris aboard.
The team’s leading rusher each of the last two seasons, Harris proved himself a productive player in college football’s best conference. And yet, he had to wait until the 183rd overall selection in the sixth round to hear his name called.
How come? The devaluation of the running back position certainly played a role in this, but Harris’ injury history might also have scared teams and prevented them from bringing him earlier than late on Day 3. With that said, let’s take a look at the reported injuries the 21-year-old has suffered so far in his career.
2019 (South Carolina): Harris was sidelined for a significant portion of his freshman season because of a torn groin muscle. While the issue was originally believed to end his season, he made a quick recovery and returned to the Gamecocks’ active roster after missing five games. That said, he carried the football only a combined 15 times for 32 yards and one touchdown over the final four contests of the season.
One of those games — a mid-November bout with Texas A&M — saw him make a brief trip to the injury tent. Harris carried the football three times for nine yards that day.
2021 (South Carolina): After leading the SEC in rushing yards as a sophomore, Harris was forced to miss most of South Carolina’s preseason after undergoing surgery on his back over the summer. He returned to practice in August and started to participate in non-contact drills later that month.
Nonetheless, Harris was unable to dress for the season opener. However, his back was not the problem: he missed the game versus Eastern Illinois because of an illness.
Harris then had to leave a mid-October game versus Vanderbilt because of an ankle injury. He suffered the ailment six carries into the game, and was unable to return. He made his comeback the following week against Texas A&M but was limited to only two carries that day.
2022 (Scouting Combine): A left hamstring injury prevented Harris from doing any of the runs or shuttle drills at the Scouting Combine in early March. He was able to do them two weeks later at the South Carolina pro day.
What it means for the Patriots
When healthy, Harris was a highly effective running back at South Carolina. His 2020 sophomore season is an example of that: not dealing with any obvious ailments, he gained a combined 1,297 yards from scrimmage and scored 16 touchdowns on 206 touches.
However, that was the only season of his three-year college that did not see him hampered by injury. His groin issue kept him out for five games as a freshman, with his back procedure and subsequent ankle injury limiting him throughout his junior campaign last year.
The Patriots are obviously fine with the medicals, or else they would not have drafted Harris even in the sixth round. However, it remains to be seen how he will hold up against the physicality in the NFL. Sure, the SEC prepared him well but the pro level is a different beast entirely — and until Harris proves he can withstand it there will be some questions about his durability based on his college career.
Luckily, New England is rather deep at the running back position. Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson are all higher up on the depth chart in the early-down department, which would limit Harris’ exposure as a potential third option. However, playing a rotational role behind the two top options might just be the best-case outlook for his rookie season after a challenging 2021 campaign.
How would you grade the Patriots’ selection of RB Kevin Harris at No. 183?
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