If you sat down to write a list of the most productive pass rushers the Denver Broncos had in 2017, what would it look like? Von Miller would be at the very top, of course. But below him? In a luckier world, Shane Ray would feature prominently. As it is, Shaquil Barrett and his decent 4.0 sacks deservedly gets a lot of attention. And behind him there were guys like Derek Wolfe, Brandon Marshall, and Adam Gotsis.
Many fans would likely think of those guys. Not so many would include rotational defensive end Shelby Harris. And yet he racked up the 2nd most sacks for the 2017 Broncos with 5.5.
And Shelby Harris may only just be getting started.
Name: Shelby Harris
Position: Defensive End
Height: 6’ 2”
College: Illinois St.
Harris is a rising player. After being drafted by the Oakland Raiders with the 235th pick of the 2014 NFL draft, the former 7th round pick got an understandably slow start to his career. His two seasons in Oakland resulted in just 14 tackles and 1 sack out of 8 games played. He then spent a year struggling to find a job before being picked up by the Broncos after the end of the 2016 season.
2017 brought 5.5 sacks, 34 tackles, 3 passes defended, and a contract for another year in Denver. Not too shabby.
Shelby’s attitude is what you like to see in the D-line. He’s a down to earth guy, and his focus is on doing his job and doing everything he can to help his team win. He likes to hone his craft and jumps on opportunities to learn from former players, like his coach Bill Kollar and former Bronco DeMarcus Ware.
Ending the season as the Broncos’ highest graded interior defender (just ahead of fellow free agent signees Zach Kerr and Domata Peko), Harris proved himself to be a competent interior pass rusher and a quality run stopper. After seeing very minimal play for the first could years of his career, he’s set a good bar for himself and will have every opportunity to earn himself an even bigger role in 2018. Shelby offers talent and the Broncos offer opportunity. Good things are likely to result.
There are areas for improvement. As with any non-blue chip player, Harris has his flaws. While he’s proven that he’s a starter quality player against both the pass and the run, his pass rush needs to continue to develop. Despite his 2017 effectiveness, he wasn’t enough of a threat to pull attention away from Von Miller and couldn’t push the pocket enough on the interior to consistently give Miller better opportunities.
While he’s cheap for 2018, production vs price and competition are going to become an issue in the near future. As an unrestricted free agent in 2018, continued good play will mean that he’s about to get expensive. And that means he may not be a Bronco for long. It’s the sort of re-signing that I think would be great for the team, but with Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, Bradley Chubb, and Zach Kerr to compete with, not to mention possible outside free agents and 2019 rookies, the numbers may dictate that Harris will earn his biggest pay checks while wearing a different jersey.
“I just want to help us win. I’m not here for the personal accolades. I’m not here for anything like that. Anything I can do to help the team win, I’m game for it.”
It’ll be a rotation role for Harris again in 2018, but that’s no slight on him. That’s just how things are in Denver under Joe Woods and Bill Kollar. He’ll be part of a defensive line rotation that will grind down opposing offensive lines as the game wears on.
Expect Harris to continue being an important factor in the Broncos’ run defense, and perhaps more importantly, expect him to be getting after the quarterback. The arrival of Bradley Chubb should mean less opposition and more opportunities for players like Harris as the rookie (hopefully) forces teams to gameplan for him.
Harris is very likely a lock for the 53 man roster and an important role in the 2018 season.