It will be interesting to see if the NFL team that selects Anthony Harris on draft day shifts him to free safety to capitalize on his coverage skills, or bulk him up to remain at strong safety and play more in the box. He racked up tackles in bunches this season, finishing second on the team with 108 hits, as he joined Quin Blanding (123 stops) in giving Virginia the only safety tandem to record 100 tackles each during the 2014 season at the FBS level.
That would increase his career figures to 289 tackles, seventh-best among active FBS defensive backs, in addition to picking off two passes this year to close out his career with 11 interceptions. A dual-threat quarterback recruit, Harris moved into the starting lineup at free safety during his sophomore year before taking over strong safety chores as a 185-pound junior.
Despite his frame, he is a physical tackler who is very capable of being able to match-up as a press corner in sub packages. He is aggressive and very quick to attack the line of scrimmage. He can cut away from penetration and make defenders miss in the hole, as 59 of his stops came in run force as a junior and 67 more were vs. the ground game in 2014.
Harris is a physical tackler with a knack for being in position to deliver the crunching hit, but will get rag-dolled when the offensive lineman latches on to him. He lacks the bulk you look for in a safety playing inside the box, but excels when given a free lane in backside pursuit, as he has the burst to close. He can locate the ball working through trash and has the speed to stay tight on the receiver in long routes.
He has a lean, angular frame, but shows good overall muscle definition and the ability to carry additional weight. He generates an above average initial burst to close on plays in front of him and has the valid range to make opposite field tackles. His acceleration compensates for his adequate backpedal skills. Despite his timed speed, he is choppy in transition and gathers on his breaks. He just seems to show better man coverage skills at safety rather than at cornerback.
The Cavalier is a smooth, fluid mover with very good hand/eye coordination. He’s a smart, instinctive player with superb route awareness, making all the defensive calls, as he does a good job of reading the quarterback and locating the ball. Despite giving up bulk, he will not hesitate to face up to larger blockers at the point of attack, but is best when allowed to roam the field.
Harris demonstrates the range to make plays in space and does a very good job of tracking the ball in flight, evident by his 11 interceptions and 19 pass deflections at Virginia. He possesses the leaping ability to get to the ball at its high point and his foot speed allows him to maintain cushion on deep routes and shows the closing burst to make plays in front of him, taking good angles in pursuit and has the quickness to maintain mirror on receivers going long.
Harris is a good contact tackler. He wraps and hits with good pop on contact, but will revert to arm tackles when working in closed quarters. He is a willing downhill player who comes up to the rush lanes fast, staying low in his pads and driving with his legs to attack the lead blocker. He has the speed to break on the ball and maintains balance on the run.
For a player with his speed and acceleration, you would hope to see more suppleness and flexibility in his backpedal. He can keep cushion and stay on top of the route, doing a nice job of attacking backs and tight ends with his hands in attempts to reroute, but just lacks the hip snap and low pedal to plant and drive on the ball.
Harris has a good feel for the ball in flight and shows the natural hands to reach and pluck the ball, but will double catch at times, resulting in more deflections than picks. He also does not show a good burst and running stride to gain valid yardage on the interception return. In conclusion, he hits hard for a player his size, but does not have the loose hips needed to mirror at cornerback. He lacks the bulk of an ideal strong safety and is better when allowed to roam the field. Put him at free safety and you will get much better value in return than at strong safety or cornerback.
Anthony Harris Scouting Combine measurables
6-1/183 (4.56 forty)
32-inch arm length
9 1/4-inch hands
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
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