Our running game has been horrible over the last two years, our RT has been injured, and his contract is essentially expired. Solution: Replace him. Right? It's an easy fix. It allows us to go to the Fantasy Store and hit up some new toys in our mock drafts. By pinpointing Harris as the problem, we then have a tangible solution (to replace him). Tangible solutions generally make us feel better about the upcoming year, far moreso than for somebody to just say, there is no problem - wait and see. We fans want an improved team and we're frustrated with Ryan's injuries. We want to feel secure that the problems in our running game have been addressed and fixed. And it's tough to feel like that without a major change. The previous regime tried to trade him. There hasn't been much in the way of negotiations. And nobody is calling him a priority. Yeah, it's easy to write him off.
Not so fast, though. It's really very possible that we're jumping to conclusions here. Ryan Harris is more of a stud at right tackle than Zane Beadles was a dud. What I mean by that, is that while the rookie didn't perform very well last year in taking over at RT for Harris, not many players would have. Ryan has some truly ginormous shoes to fill. His absence affected our team far greater than the absences of Andre Goodman or Brian Dawkins. Certainly more than Kyle Orton. In fact, you could make the argument that Ryan'absence negatively impacted our team more than those three combined.
Now I understand you're concerned with his injury history, his cost, and the seemingly low priority management has placed on re-signing him - not to mention the fact our running game wasn't even good when he was playing. Fair enough, but for what it's worth, I think his expense will be bearable, the risk will be minimal, his injury history is overblown and his impact on this team can't be replaced this season. As for why management hasn't prioritized extending him and why the previous regime tried to trade him, well, there are easily explainable reasons for that, also.
The Broncos running game over the past two years (both collectively and separately) has been a top-ten unit with Ryan Harris in the game, and it ranked in the 30s both years when he wasn't playing. Tyler Polumbus was his backup in 2009 and Beadles filled in during the 2010 season. So, you can't necessarily blame it all on the backup. Harris had injuries in each of those years, but the cold hard truth is that we sucked without him and we were great with him. Some of this actually surprised me a little bit. Like you, I realized that Harris was good and that we lack quality backups. But before digging in, I would never have guessed that anything about our running game was good.
Harris started ten games last year and we averaged 4.3-YPC, for the six games without him we averaged 3.2-YPC. That's a really, really big difference. But again, before we blame that whole discrepancy on Zane Beadles, look to 2009 when Beadles wasn't around. That year we averaged 4.45-YPC with Harris starting, and just 3.8-YPC without him. Again, we ranked in the top-10 in each of of those years while he was starting and ranked in the thirties when he wasn't.
Now statistics can be molded and shaded to suit a certain view, but I assure you, these numbers aren't due to having like a single 350 yard rushing game that padded the stats or anything of the like. And I'm not brushing over or hiding any negatives that would hinder my stance. Ryan Harris is consistently very, very strong in the run game. Want more evidence? With Harris starting over the last two years we rushed for 100+ yards per game 72% of the time. When he wasn't in the game, that number is 29%. Yeah, seriously. The team rushed for 100 yards just four times without him over the last two years. Yet in the 18 games he started, we only not rushed for a hundred yards just five times.
Harris is just one man, but there's absolutely no denying the impact he has on our running game. With him, we can pound the rock at will. Without him, we could make money betting on our inability to top a hundred yards. Literally. All of this, mind you, while switching to a new scheme, fighting injuries, starting with rookies and dealing with a continual shuffle along the line.
Let's talk injuries now. And I'll start by just saying Ryan Harris is not injury prone. Boom. Dropping some knowledge. Did you know that throughout Harris's entire college and NFL career, the entire extent of his injury history is comprised of a single 12 month span? As a true freshman starter at Notre Dame, Ryan never missed a game to injury. That was just a little 43 game streak. He started his NFL career in 2007. No injuries to speak of. 2008: Yep, started every game. Then comes the 2009 season. He has an injury and gets repeated injuries likely from trying to come back too quickly. From week-nine that year until week-nine in 2010, Harris had the injury bug. Never before or since. That's not injury prone, my friends. That label does not fit. He had bad luck for a single year. That is all.
Harris was rushed back too soon last year, making two ugly starts in weeks four and five. So he went back and took a seat on the bench for a few more games then came back after the bye week. In the eight games previous to the bye, we had broke a hundred yards just once. In the eight games after, with a newly healthy Ryan Harris, we rushed for more than a hundred yards in all but one game. And in that game, we only ran the ball a rather putrid 15 times.
Nobody is really throwing Harris under the bus here at MHR, and I'm really not suggesting that. But I really don't see much support for him, either. And if there is much support, it's certainly not very loud. Most of us seem to be OK whether he leaves or stays, but I'm not. Harris has been a wounded warrior, unfairly tagged with the injury label and hasn't gotten enough credit for being the glue that holds our running game together - regardless of whether he's coming off injury and regardless of having two rookies starting on the same line.
The previous regime wanted to trade Ryan prematurely simply because he hadn't recovered from injury yet. That's it. Then he came back strong in the final eight, hasn't had any setbacks, and those recent injuries probably actually help us to re-sign him because they making him more affordable. The new regime hasn't made Harris a priority because if the lockout is overturned (like most believe it will be), then the RFA Tender is likely to stick. Which means we have him for about the same price as last year. It's the same reason we haven't signed other RFAs. And if that tender does stick, then Harris becomes even more willing to take a discount so that he can get his raise and long-term security.
Maybe I should add a note here about Ryan being 300 pounds soaking wet - that he's always been seen as more of a finesse blocker and a better fit in the zone blocking scheme that we're likely switching back to. But who cares? Harris is Effing Fantastic in run support, regardless of system, supporting cast or recent injuries. He's a player worth fighting for, plain and simple. He can't be immediately replaced without spending a first-round pick to do so, or without spending more money in free agency than it would cost to re-sign him. We already need a quality backup. We're paper thin. If we have to replace Harris, we'll be looking at spending two draft picks in the first four rounds. Allowing a great player to walk just so that we can spend a high resource to replace him... is a bad strategy. It's one step forward, two steps back.
Ryan Harris is a loyal Bronco, a wounded man that's been somewhat left behind and forgotten about. But I assure you, you'll remember him next year if we're playing without him. And you'll miss him. So there you have it. My puff piece on a great Bronco. What do you guys think about keeping him?