How many times would someone have to tell you to give up before you start to believe it? Would you keep chasing a dream after you were denied 6 different times? Shelby Harris did, and now he looks like the most invaluable lineman on the Denver Broncos revamped Orange Crush.
“Being cut six times is not fun. A lot of people would’ve quit. But you’ve just got to keep going.” Harris said last September after the Broncos thrilling week 1 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, a game Harris sealed with a blocked field goal.
“As I look ahead, I’ve got to get sacks. It’s pretty simple. I just need to keep playing within the defense, not do too much and just play in my technique and keep the course.”
Let’s dive into the course he kept. It’s a fun ride.
Week 2. Domination in Dallas.
The first thing that jumps off the tape about Harris is just how quick he is. Scattered throughout his tape are plays where he’s the first one moving at the snap of the ball, even beating Von Miller on occasion. In the play above Harris is by Dallas Cowboys guard Chaz Green (79) on Dak Prescott’s second step.
One of the things where a quick step like Harris’ really helps is how it gives him a second to square up his stance when he’s rushing the passer. That inside foot is tied to his rush move and because he gets to that base quicker than Green, he has the upper hand. The foot/hand tie is an underrated reason why the very best pass rushers in the NFL need to be quick off the snap. It’s why you routinely hear about “quick-twitch” guys come draft season. It’s a gift that can’t be taught and one that is absolutely devastating.
Footwork is something DeMarcus Ware once explained in his pass rush demo for NFL Network, which is kind of ironic.
Dallas also provides a beautiful example of what happens when the Broncos used Harris and either Von or Shaquil Barrett to stress the outside gaps of the offensive line as well. Because Harris is such a pesky rusher himself, the opposing offensive linemen were left on islands. With the addition of Bradley Chubb and Shane Ray’s return to health, I fully expect this to be a staple in 2018.
Week 3: The Bull rush in Buffalo
There is no doubt that Harris has special feet, he’s quick off the ball and really agile for a man his size.
What stood out on this play was the second effort. Richie Incognito (64) got his mitts clasped on Harris’ jersey to start this play, but by keeping his eyes on Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor, Harris’ continued to influence the play. Initially he’s pressing into the A gap to make a push but changes course for the edge after Shaq’s spin inside. The move catches Incognito off balance (and should have lead to an easy holding call, if the zebra wore his contacts that day). Harris was there to keep Taylor contained and number 5 lost his balance, leading to an easy takedown.
Harris is quick and slippery, which forces an offensive lineman to stay light on his feet in order to keep up. This opens up the Bull, and while it isn’t necessarily the go-to move for Harris, he did it masterfully for his first sack of the season.
Week 4: Wrecking the Carr
There are a number of reasons I love this play as much, or even more than any other Shelby Harris play from the 2017 season.
First reason: it shows Harris versatility. You’ll see 96 shaded over Oakland Raiders center Rodney Hudson (61) here. This game was one of the first times he did it in live action for the Broncos. While that may not seem like a big deal to the casual fan (a d-lineman is a d-lineman is a d-lineman, right? wrong.) it’s a pretty big difference. Playing the nose shade requires an adept ability to play into double teams if they come, as well as quick reflexes. After all, your closer to the ball. One of the reasons Harris excels here is similar to one of those reasons the quirky Elvis Dumervil was such a peculiar standout rusher: Shelby is short (6’2) but has very long arms (34 5/8 inches).
Second reason: Look at that second effort. Harris’ beats his man, respects the play action fake, turns to chase Carr as he bootlegs, beats another block and engulfs the Raiders QB with both Derek Wolfe and Adam Gotsis.
Third reason: this play knocked Carr out of the game. In and of itself, that’s good for the Broncos winning percentage, but later in the game Joe Woods calls a pressure package that looks just like the Sugar Blitz I used to win Brother-Bowl 12 in Madden 25. Good times.
Week 6: A Magician in Manhattan
A little bit of déjà vu here.
Remember when I said that Harris was slippery? Against New York there was a play I had to stop and slow-mo three times to really gather how he beat the block. It was remarkable.
The key here is the running back. It’s 3rd and long, so he’s either in to help pass protect, or to run. Against the Broncos it rarely made sense to run a shotgun back to the same side on counter action because the play would take too long to develop. If the New York Giants were going to run here, it’s likely heading to the defenses’ left side or up the middle.
At this point it looks like the stop will have to come from Brandon Marshall or Will Parks, unless Barrett can pull off something crazy.
The play gained 4 yards.
Week 9: The Beat-down in Philly
I’ll admit I watched this one specifically because it was a 52-21 affair where the Broncos defense got gashed on the ground. I wanted to see how Harris held up against a Super Bowl caliber offensive line. I was pleasantly surprised, at times.
The front 7 surely had their fair share of losing battles, but Harris still found a way to make his presence known. Because he does such a good job of keeping an eye on the QB he has a knack for getting his hands up to influence passing lanes. This is a strength of his that crops up all over his tape. He also continued to fight, even as the game got way out of hand.
On first glance, I thought Harris was just getting swamped here, but he still found a way to squirt between Zach Kerr (92) and Brandon Brooks (79). A fun fact that may only interest me: Brooks and Harris played high school ball 14 miles from each other. They were also both born in August, though 2 years apart, but I digress.
Week 13: The Meltdown in Miami
In a lot of ways the Miami Dolphins game was kind of the “coming of age” game for Shelby Harris. While he had proven his worth week after week, the Dolphins saw a Broncos D thinned out by injury (Derek Wolfe, Domata Peko) and suspension (Aqib Talib). This forced Justin Simmons to play a large share of plays at cornerback and pushed Willie Parks into a larger role. It also meant that Harris would go from primarily a passing down rotational piece to every down defensive lineman in a game where the temperature at kickoff was a humid 80 degrees. He answered the call.
Why Mike Pouncey slid left is beyond me, but kudos to Harris for taking advantage here. This may go down as the easiest sack of his career, but you’ve got to give Cutler credit, he runs pretty fast for a guy just cashing checks.
Then, on the very next series...
There’s a ton of blame to go around for the Dolphins 35 points, but Harris played out of his mind. I kept waiting for him to tire, yet there he was in the 4th quarter chasing down Kenyon Drake from the backside. If “Magician” doesn’t stick as a nickname for Harris, perhaps “Engine” could because his never stops.
Week 17: The Summary Sack in Kansas City.
The final sack of the Harris’ season really encompasses all of his strengths in one play.
The quick feet and hands are on full display here. That combined with his ability to stay low makes Harris a dangerous pass rusher to leave single blocked, something opposing offenses will be forced to do if they’re going to contend with the Broncos quartet of Edge players.
No player is perfect, and Harris could surely improve at anchoring, as well as fighting double teams, but what he lacks in bulk he makes up for in spades. He’s a devastating penetrator in the run game and makes play after play in pursuit off the backside.
Here’s hoping Elway recognizes the diamond he’s found in Shelby Harris, he’s a keeper.