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2017 Saints Draft Targets: Charles Harris

The Mizzou Tigers pass rusher had a disappointing 2016, but digging into his tape shows why he’s the draft’s second-best pass rusher.

COLUMBIA, MO - Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) sacks Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) at Faurot Field.
COLUMBIA, MO - Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris (91) sacks Georgia Bulldogs quarterback Jacob Eason (10) at Faurot Field.
John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

The depth of talent at edge rusher in this draft class has been written about and discussed ad nauseam, but typically you’ll see a few common names at the top of the class: Texas A&M Aggies phenom Myles Garrett, Tennessee Vols iron man Derek Barnett, and Alabama Crimson Tide star Tim Williams.

Had he not been shackled to a defensive line coach whose philosophies caused the entire unit to recede (and was fired before the end of the 2016 season), Missouri Tigers pass rusher Charles Harris would be in that discussion.

Harris was the latest in a long line of talented quarterback-hunters to be recruited and coached under Craig Kuligowski, who was let go after the 2015 season during a broad staff turnover at Mizzou. Kuligowski now coaches for the Miami Hurricanes, and has sent players into the NFL including Aldon Smith, Markus Golden, Shane Ray, and Kony Ealy. Kuligowski’s proteges typically are better technicians than athletes, which can lead to them being overlooked in the pre-draft hype machine.

Measurements and Athletic Testing

Harris has a solid frame for an edge rusher (6-foot-3-inches, 253-pounds, 32 3/8-inch arms) but like his predecessors is a below-average athlete. Harris did not perform well at the NFL Scouting Combine, but did improve some of his numbers after more training at Mizzou’s pro day a few weeks later:

  • 40-Yard Dash: 4.82-seconds (combine)
  • 225-pound Bench: 21-reps (combine)
  • Vertical Jump: 33-inches (combine), 37 1/2-inches (pro day)
  • Broad Jump: 9-foot-1inch (combine), 9-foot-10-inches (pro day)
  • 3-Cone Drill: 7.47-seconds (combine), 7.35-seconds (pro day)
  • 20-yard Shuttle: 4.42-seconds (combine), 4.4-seconds (pro day)

Harris will need to continue bulking up to cut it in the NFL (he was listed at just 235-pounds on Mizzou’s online roster as a redshirt freshman in 2014) but it’s easy to see him playing in the 260- to 265-pound range after spending time in an NFL strength/conditioning and nutrition program. Even so, don’t expect him to play 60 to 70 downs per game right away.

What He Offers

Harris is a dynamic pass rusher off the edge. Per Pro Football Focus’ charting, he averaged a quarterback pressure (sack, hit, or hurry moving them off their spot) once every six attempts last year. He has enough bend and burst to turn the corner and possesses an already-polished spin move to counter inside, testament to good coaching from Kuligowski.

Harris primarily rushed off the right end position in college, matching up against left tackles throughout the SEC. That means he would be a natural fit on the Saints opposite Cameron Jordan at left end. His good get-off and violent hands often set up Harris for success, and he shows an understanding of setting opponents up to overcommit to their outside shoulder before countering inside to cross their face.

So far as cons go, Harris’ depressed level of play last year under an unfamiliar coaching staff that asked him to do different things like read-and-react, hesitate in his rushes, and drop into coverage may give evaluators pause. He lacks mass and power in his lower body so can get wiped out versus offensive linemen blocking for their running backs. That can be corrected with more time in the weight room, but Harris should not be expected to play more than 30 snaps per game (his average the last two years as a starter at Mizzou).

Bottom Line

If the Saints are drafting Charles Harris in the first round they will need to take him with the 11th overall pick. Some teams reportedly view him as a top-10 pick, per Eric Galko of national college scouting service Optimum Scouting.

As I said earlier, Harris is an experienced right end who would fit in nicely opposite Cameron Jordan. He would probably contribute right away in the defensive end rotation with free agent signee Alex Okafor, replacing Kasim Edebali and Paul Kruger, respectively. For perspective, last year Kruger averaged almost 38 defensive snaps per game while Edebali averaged 16. Letting Harris work his way into a larger role through Edebali’s snap counts would give him time to put on more weight and get comfortable playing in the Saints’ defense. I would fully expect him to start the following year.