Some corners rely on speed, some rely on size, others rely pure physicality. Chris Harris has used his brain to be one of the NFL’s elite cornerbacks over the last several years.
While he is finally starting to get the national recognition he deserves, those that play him on Sundays, and watch his tape on Mondays have always known how good he really is.
Bengals receiver AJ Green, a six-time Pro Bowler and one of the premiere pass catchers in football, recently ranked Harris as one of the top 5 toughest corners he’s ever faced.
In a really well done piece for the Player’s Tribune, AJ Green goes into detail on his shortlist of best cornerbacks and what makes them good.
This is the highest compliment I can give a football player — if you look at Chris on film once or twice, you might think, Alright, this guy is a pretty good corner, but what’s the big deal? But I can tell you from going against him that he’s one of the smartest, quickest corners in the game.
Chris stayed very underrated for a long time because his game is so mental. He’s going to get in the film room on Tuesday and by Sunday he knows every little thing you like to do. People may think of him as a nickel cover guy, but he’s got the tools to stick with you on the outside, too.
Green also breaks down a couple of plays that showcase Harris’ smarts and preparation.
The one that comes to my mind, is an interception against the Panthers in week one of 2016. Harris recalls this play in his own Player’s Tribune piece.
I remember breaking this play down in my film recap of that game, and remarking how impressive of a read it was. That play was all due to film study and Harris’ intelligence diagnosing the play.
If you want to get a jump on a route, you have to start making the interception on Monday. My first pick this season, against the Panthers, was straight film. Based on their formation, and their personnel, and the down and distance, I had in mind a few plays they might run as soon as they broke the huddle. But then I saw Cam flip the running back from the right side to the left side, and I knew exactly what was coming.
The thing about the NFL is, even though I anticipated the three-step slant and jumped it at the right time, Kelvin Benjamin is so big and physical that I was only able to get one hand on the ball. Luckily, it tipped high enough into the air that I had a second chance to dive and grab it. I’d say at least 10 hours of film went into that one pick.
Attention to even the most minute of detail is what gives Harris an edge, and forces receivers to bring their A-game every play. According to Green, Harris is one of the best in the business at noticing the little things.
With Chris, it’s all about not giving him indicators. He’s going to be watching your hips, your eyes, your shoulders — anything that tips him off that you’re about to go into your break. If you raise up just a half inch before you plant your foot to go into a slant, Chris is going to notice it. You have to be so disciplined and so crisp against him. I mean, you even have to be disciplined with your eyes. If you’re running a slant and you’re glancing inside as you’re coming off the line, Chris is going to notice it and play your inside shoulder.
The last play that comes to mind when talking about Harris’ intelligence is one that helped Denver win the Super Bowl in 2015.
In the AFC Championship game, New England was in Denver territory trying to convert a 4th and 1.
Harris is covering Amendola in the slot, but notices Julian Edelman coming across the formation after the play action. The design from the Patriots is to get Talib caught up in the trash and not able to follow.
Harris sees this and comes off of his initial responsibility, passing him to Talib, and comes up and makes the stop on Edelman behind the line of scrimmage.
It was one of the most impressive plays from Denver’s defense during their Super Bowl run, in my opinion.
Speaking of Talib, it’s great to see both of Denver’s corners being continually recognized as the best at what they do.
In yet another Player’s Tribune piece, Richard Sherman calls out both Harris and Talib for the way they play their technique.
Then you got a guy like Aqib Talib in Denver, who plays a good read-step like we do, but who can also soft-shoe. At 6’ 1’’, he’s tall. He’s also quick, fast and physical, so he can even play off the receiver and still be effective because he has the tools to attack from a few yards off the ball without any give.
Or think about Chris Harris Jr., who plays alongside him, and who plays the off-technique as well as anybody. He’s not the biggest guy in the world — I think he’s 5’ 10′, 200 pounds — but he thrives playing that off-technique and relying on his instincts to anticipate and put himself in position to make a play. There’s a lot of studying and natural talent that goes into playing that brand of cornerback.
The respect between the players is mutual as Harris listed AJ Green as one of the toughest receivers he has faced. Additionally, Green mentions Aqib Talib at the tail end of his piece and said he could have easily listed Talib as well on his rankings.
With receivers like Dez Bryant, Odell Beckham, Amari Cooper, and yes, AJ Green all on the schedule this season, fans will have plenty of opportunities to see our guys lineup against the best of the best. Should be fun to watch!