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2019 Broncos Roster Review: Defensive lineman Shelby Harris

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The “secret” star of the Broncos defense could be defensive lineman Shelby Harris.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Arizona Cardinals
People are sleeping on Harris. They shouldn’t.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

If you’ve followed my work since coming to Mile High Report, you’ll know I’ve been sky high on Shelby Harris for a long while now. I dove into his film my first summer writing about the Broncos and dove into his 2018 in an attempt to understand how his role would change under Vic Fangio.

Let there be no doubt about it: Shelby Harris is the best interior pass rusher on the Broncos line and should see more a lot more opportunities in the new scheme.

Shelby Harris profile

Height: 6-foot-2

Weight: 285 pounds

Age: 28 on August 11

Experience: 5th year

One of the craziest parts of the 2018 Broncos D was how criminally underutilized Shelby Harris was. He logged just 36.21 percent of Denver’s defensive snaps last year. DeMarcus Walker is the only defensive lineman who played less.

The good

Quick first step

Solid lateral mobility

Very good arm length

Elite run defender

Good upfield burst

Leverages gaps

Strong use of hands

Good motor

It’s hard to watch Harris for long without noticing his burst off the snap. This shines most when he’s playing nose out to the three technique, where it’s good to very good. Oftentimes he meets his opponent as the ball is reaching the quarterback, and since Harris has long arms, he can quickly gain control.

Harris will test an opponents anchor.

One area where Harris really shines is against zone blocking, where he keeps his body clean and has the lateral quickness to run down the line.

This shows up most against outside zone where he’ll hustle to the ball or cut off the initial aiming point.

With more of the league looking to emulate Shanahan/McVay, Harris’ ability to play against zone schemes is only going to become more valuable.

There’s a good reason many of Harris’ defensive snaps came on third down. Even as a nose tackle, he’s a pass rushing threat. He has a nasty swim move, a solid chop, and a powerful bullrush. He’ll use his length to snatch blocker’s hands and drag them down.

Harris should have more opportunities to rush out of a 3 technique in 2019. That’s a great thing.

The bad

Undersized

Will give ground to down blocks

Limited snaps 2017-2018

The biggest weakness Harris presents as a nose is his size. At 285 pounds, he’s very light for a pivot, which is one reason I suspect his snaps were limited.

Reports out of the Broncos OTAs and minicamp suggested he’ll again play a significant number of his snaps at the 0 or 1 technique, so Fangio clearly believes in him.

Harris is light for an interior player.

Going forward, my hope is he continues to improve against down blocks and double teams. At his size it’s understandable that he’ll give up some ground to 600-plus pounds of mass coming at him, but with only Zach Kerr and perhaps Mike Purcell rotating inside with him, this bears monitoring.

Quotable

“If you’re looking at previous years, I’ve played every position. It’s nothing new and I love it because we get different mismatches. It’s fun lining up in nose one play, lining up in five to take the next play, going through a three the next. They necessarily don’t know what to expect from you at all different positions because you kind of have to rush the passer a little differently for everyone. You kind of have to play the run a little different from everyone. To be able to have that type of skill set, that adds years onto your career.”

Shelby Harris’ roster status with the Broncos

He’s about as safe a lock as any on the current roster. While he doesn’t make the same kind of splashy plays Von Miller or Bradley Chubb do, he’s one of Denver’s 5 or 6 most valuable Broncos.

Things could get dicey after the season, however. 2020 has to be a date John Elway has circled with red ink as far as the Broncos current defensive line goes. Derek Wolfe, Adam Gotsis, & Shelby Harris will all come up for contracts.

Chances are Elway won’t elect to resign all three. He should make Shelby Harris the priority.