Last week, the Jets confirmed that they had signed Lindenwood linebacker Connor Harris to an undrafted free agent contract after the 2017 NFL Draft.
The 23-year old Harris is 5'11" and 242 pounds and is the NCAA's all-time leading tackler. He was the Cliff Harris small college defensive player of the year award winner in 2016.
Kansas was the only division one school to offer Harris a scholarship out of high school, but he had already committed to Lindenwood.
He was a starter for the next five years and was consistently productive at the linebacker position, while also contributing as a wildcat quarterback and even as a punter and placekicker.
Harris red-shirted in 2013 after suffering a season-ending shoulder injury in the third game but otherwise started every game and ended up with 633 tackles, six interceptions and 8.5 sacks.
Let's move onto some more in-depth analysis of what Harris brings to the table, based on in-depth research and film study.
When we broke down Dylan Donahue, we discussed in detail the concerns over his short arms. Harris is in exactly the same boat. Some reports suggested he had 28.75" arms which would be shorter than every defensive player measured at the combine since 1999 other than Brandon Magee, who was a reserve/special teamer for a couple of years and then was out of the league.
However, Harris' arms actually measured at just over 30" at the scouting combine. That's still really short, but it's slightly longer than the same measurement for Chris Borland, who saw some recent success with the 49ers. In fact, Harris' listed height and weight are identical to one of the best undersized linebackers of all-time - former Dolphin Zach Thomas.
Even so, it's going to dramatically affect his range and, more importantly, how easy it is for him to get off blocks.
Otherwise, Harris posted average numbers pretty much across the board, other than in the bench press. That's surprising because he has a strong physique and short arms are usually an asset in that discipline.
Harris was a three-down linebacker in college, constantly lining up at the MIKE. He played the same role at the senior bowl.
Perhaps more interesting is how he was used on read option packages and for emergency kicking duties. For his career, Harris rushed for 328 yards and seven touchdowns on 50 carries. Although much of that was short yardage work, he broke two runs of longer than 60 yards. In one 2014 game, they used him in that role consistently and he ran for 188 yards and four scores.
Harris was asked to work out as a fullback at the Chiefs local pro day and was apparently told by the coaches that they couldn't tell that wasn't his natural position.
Harris is considered to have natural instincts and is regarded as a film junkie. He noticeably makes his read and explodes to the football, as well as having a knack for filling lanes or keeping himself clean while the play develops.
Here's a great example of Harris (#16) reading the end-around immediately, avoiding a blocker and staying in front of the play the whole time. As it happens, they made the play before he got there anyway, although he almost came up with the fumble recovery:
This may seem obvious, given his unmatched production levels, but Harris is constantly around the football. It's crucial for him to make the right read though, because where he doesn't he's liable to get stuck on a block.
He's just a beat late to react to this pitch play, but it's enough that he's easily driven off at the second level:
These instincts no doubt helped him when he was employed in those read option packages. However, here's a read option play where he misreads the fake hand-off and gets caught inside on 4th and short:
Harris shows good range in pursuit and can get out to the sideline on passes into the flat.
Moreover, his effort in pursuit is relentless. He'll chase down lost causes and won't give up on a chance to make a tackle.
When chasing plays down he takes good angles and avoids traffic well. He just has to be careful not to get stuck on an initial block.
Harris perhaps doesn't attack the line of scrimmage and make impact plays behind the line that often. For his career, he had 34 tackles for loss which is only about 5% of his total tackles. The most he had in one year was 12.5 tackles for loss (which included 4.5 sacks). By comparison, Zach Cunningham of Vanderbilt had 16.5 last year against much better competition.
"Tackling's my thing," Harris told assembled media last week. The numbers back this up, as he's the only college football player in any division to surpass 600 career tackles. He had five games with over 20 and averaged 13.5 per game.
Harris seems to be a secure tackler as he usually wraps his man up with good technique and drives through him.
On the basis of what film is available, it's extremely rare for Harris to miss a tackle, although he may at times be blocked out of a play or beaten to the edge.
On this play he is blocked by a lead-blocking fullback who drives him backwards and prevents him from being able to disengage to make an attempt to tackle:
Here's a rare example of him failing to make a tackle, as he gets stiff-armed after the back makes a short catch underneath. Stick with it, though, as he makes a sensational play to get up and run the back down from behind:
Harris didn't blitz much from the footage reviewed, although he did register 8.5 sacks, including a career-high 4.5 in 2015.
He's usually employed in zone coverage in the middle of the field, so the only times he would go after the quarterback might be on a react blitz or scramble attempt. On the few highlights available of him sacking a quarterback, he primarily came unblocked off the edge or up the middle, with his ability to avoid blockers, close and finish coming in handy.
Harris' ability to make a quick read and fill a lane is a huge asset in short yardage situations and he made several short yardage stops on film.
This was his flashiest play from the senior bowl as he read the running lane perfectly on third and short, but - more importantly - stopped the runner in his tracks shy of the marker:
As noted, Harris can sometimes be in trouble if a blocker is able to engage with him early. He has good strength and there were plenty of examples where he used his hands well to free himself from a block, but at the NFL level, even if that slows you down a small amount, that can be enough to lead to a big play.
Here was a play where he was completely overwhelmed by his blocker at the second level, although it didn't affect the success of the play:
Harris was employed similarly to how the Jets use David Harris most of the time, sitting in the middle of the field in zone coverage and reacting. His instincts come in handy here and he seemed adept at latching onto a crosser or following someone out into the flat.
At times, he might match up with a slot receiver when there were three on the same side or if one was close to the line.
He wasn't targeted in the senior bowl as he constantly seemed to be in position underneath. He had a nice pick-six in practice, though.
As noted, he had six interceptions in college, with plenty of return yardage and one touchdown. In addition, he also broke up another 14 passes. He shows off some good ball skills on this leaping interception:
Harris should be a good contributor on special teams, especially since his lack of arm length may be less on an issue in space.
He played some special teams while in college, but didn't produce much and presumably wasn't in that role most of the time as he was playing 100% of the defensive snaps.
In limited work at the senior bowl, he was credited with this tackle on punt coverage:
I doubt he'd ever be called upon to punt or kick at the NFL, but it's happened in the past, so you never know when that ability might come in handy. The 2010 Jets won a game in overtime after Ndamukong Suh missed an extra point in emergency duties, for example.
His punting numbers weren't too bad for a part-timer and he made all 12 of his extra points in college.
Lindenwood obviously would have run a much more simplistic defensive scheme than the Jets do, but with Harris' film study tendencies, you'd have to imagine he would pick it up quickly.
In the Jets defense, he would presumably look to earn the MIKE role which would enable him to be paired up with the smaller but more athletic Darron Lee.
Harris is a five time honor roll student who displays good leadership, works hard and sets a good example. He has a determined attitude towards the game, especially in respect of his efforts to overcome his lack of length.
On the field, it didn't seem like penalties were an issue, but he's an intense competitor.
Harris' shoulder injury in 2013 is the only time he missed during his college career. He had started the first three games, but that ruled him out for the rest of the season and he was granted a fifth year of eligibility.
An initial assessment of Harris' film from his performance at the senior bowl suggested that the jump in level might be difficult for him to overcome, as he was blocked out of too many plays. However, he was still productive (six tackles) and had a couple of impressive flashes.
From reviewing more of his film you get a better sense of his consistency, relentlessness and preparation. While it's often difficult to judge players performing against lower level opposition, you'd expect an NFL prospect at that level to stand out and Harris absolutely does.
Recent Cliff Harris award winners include Pierre Desir and Marqui Christian, who were both drafted, with Patriots star Malcolm Butler having been a finalist in the year Desir won. Desir also attended Lindenwood, as did former Jet Brian Schaefering, who would later go on to start games at the NFL level. So, it's not unheard of for a dominant player with Harris' background to make it in the pros.
As with Donahue, the length issue is a concern, but his instincts are so good, he's often able to avoid the initial block, so it will be interesting to see how effective he can be once he's comfortable with the system. Harris seems like a guy the coaches will love, but will it translate to the field?
UP NEXT: We'll take a look at Washington State wide receiver Gabe Marks.