With the offseason workout program in the rear-view mirror, the New England Patriots are already fully “on to 2022.”
The team currently has 87 players under contract, but only 53 of them will be able to survive roster cutdowns in early September and ultimately make the active team. Over the course of spring and summer, just like we have in years past, we will take a look at the men fighting for those spots to find out who has the best chances of helping the Patriots build on their 10-7 record.
Today, the series continues with rookie running back Kevin Harris.
Name: Kevin Harris
Position: Running back
Jersey number: TBD (Offseason No. 58)
Opening day age: 21
Size: 6-foot-0, 220 pounds
Contract status: Under contract through 2025 (2026 UFA)
What is his experience? Harris entered the league as the 183rd selection in the sixth round of this year’s draft, which naturally means that his pro-level experience is rather limited. He did participate in the Patriots’ offseason workouts and mandatory minicamp as well as the rookie developmental program, but as of yet has neither gotten any taste of NFL physicality and speed nor any game action versus opponents outside the organization. That being said, he does have plenty of competitive and productive football on his career résumé.
Spending his entire three-year college career at South Carolina, Harris appeared in 28 games — including 16 as the team’s starter. Despite seeing only minimal action as a true freshman and seeing his production drop as a junior, Harris still finished his time as a Gamecock with 358 carries for 1,798 yards and 23 touchdowns. He was at his best as a sophomore in 2020, leading the SEC in rushing yards per game (113.8) and getting voted to the second all-conference team after a 185-1,138-15 campaign.
What did his 2021 season look like? Coming off a highly productive season as the SEC’s leading rusher, expectations were high for Harris entering his junior campaign in Columbia. However, he failed to meet them in large part because of medical reasons: Harris was hampered by several ailments throughout his 2021 season, starting with offseason back surgery that forced to miss most of South Carolina’s preseason. In-season, he missed time because of an illness as well as an ankle injury suffered in mid-October.
All in all, Harris still managed to play in 12 of 13 games — missing the season opener versus Eastern Illinois because of the aforementioned illness — but he only started six of them and saw his numbers across the board decline compared to his superb sophomore year. Sharing backfield duties with senior ZaQuandre White, Harris touched the football a combined 163 times for 749 yards as well as four scores. He led the team in touches and yards, but was unable to duplicate the general success he enjoyed previous season.
As a runner, Harris gained 660 yards on 152 carries for an average of 4.3 yards per run. He also found the end zone four times, but in general was more up and down during a challenging season. Nonetheless, he was able to close the book on his college career in style: in South Carolina’s bowl game against North Carolina, he carried the football 31 times for 182 yards and a touchdown; Harris was therefore a key factor for his team’s 38-21 victory. That said, he was unable to consistently contribute in such a fashion.
A look at his performances against the three ranked teams on the Gamecocks’ schedule makes this obvious. Against Georgia, Texas A&M and Clemson, Harris combined to run the ball 26 times for a mere 44 yards and a measly 1.7 yards per attempt. Obviously, the blocking in front of him against some talented defensive fronts was also suspect but the stat-lines posted those weeks are part of Harris’ junior experience as well — one that also saw him again 89 receiving yards on 11 catches.
What is his projected role? Harris projects primarily as an early-down and short-yardage in the Patriots’ system. He possesses some good initial burst and a bulky frame at 6-foot-0, 220 pounds, and could therefore find some early playing time as a package-specific player and on special teams. Of course, the Patriots are well-set at the top of their running back depth chart, with Damien Harris and Rhamondre Stevenson as the one-two punch at the position. Harris is competing for the number three early-down option behind them.
Does he have positional versatility? As illustrated by the numbers outlined above, Harris does have a bit of experience as a receiver out of the backfield. Over the course of his three-year career in college, he caught 35 passes for a combined 274 yards and one touchdown. His lack of elusiveness and straight-line speed, however, will likely impact his usage at the next level and prevent him from becoming a truly versatile player.
What is his special teams value? Having no experience as a kickoff or punt returner from his time at South Carolina, Harris will likely have to leave his mark on the coverage teams and as a blocker on the two return squads. If he can find success in those assignments, he might be able to build a Brandon Bolden-esque career for himself: a player who is more of a depth option on offense, but a core member of the Patriots’ kicking game teams.
What is his salary cap situation? Having signed his four-year rookie contract with New England back in mid-May, Harris will count $755,588 against New England’s salary cap this year — if he makes the 53-man roster. At the moment, after all, his cap number does not qualify for Top-51 status under the NFL’s offseason rules. Accordingly, only his fully-guaranteed $50,588 signing bonus proration is currently hitting the books; the remaining $705,000 worth of salary will only be added to the mix if he is on the team after cutdown day.
How safe is his roster spot? Being a sixth-round draft pick with some limitations who is coming off an inconsistent junior season, Harris is far from a lock to make the team — especially at a position as deep as running back. With Damien Harris, Rhamondre Stevenson and fourth-round rookie Pierre Strong all either locks or near-locks to make the team, there are only so many spots to still go around. In order to earn one of them, Harris will need to stand his ground as a runner, receiver and special teamer versus the likes of James White and J.J. Taylor, and possibly Damien Harris and Stevenson as well.
One-sentence projection: Kevin Harris will be given plenty of opportunities in preseason, but eventually spend his entire rookie campaign on the Patriots’ practice squad.