University of Virginia Cavaliers
Lloyd C. Bird High School
OVERVIEWAny strong safety that measures in at 183 pounds is sure to have their detractors, but when some “draft experts” refer to this Cavalier as an “ankle biter,” well, it is time to make a case for this impressive performer. First, when teams refer to a player with such disregard for that athlete’s tackling skills, it is hard to imagine that would associate with one who has recorded 289 tackles during a three-year term as a starter.
Having accounted for 145 initial tackles among his career total, it is obvious that if Harris is a supposed “ankle biter,” that there are a lot of bruised legs left behind in the Atlantic Coast Conference ranks. While most would agree that the strong safety position is usually occupied by 220-pound types and not cornerback-sized 183-pound players, Harris’ body of work is proof that “big things come in little packages.”
Harris underwent right shoulder surgery that prevented him from participating in agility tests during the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine and also did not gain medical clearance to perform during Virginia’s pro day in early March.
With 4.56-second times in the 40-yard dash, some scouts feel that Harris might be a better fit as a slot cornerback than as a strong safety. Others feel that his experience at free safety could see him return to that position at the next level. With 289 tackles, he has shown good ability to be physical playing in the box, but his 30 passes defended also display his ability to mix it up in coverage.
Harris has shown that if he is to move outside to cornerback, that he can press, bail, and do a nice job keying the quarterback in zone coverage. Still, with the way he keeps the action in front of him, Harris is probably a better fit at safety for the next level. The issue with the former Cavalier is that while 4.56 speed is acceptable, he lacks explosive speed and change-of-direction agility, as he does not demonstrate fluidity through the hips.
Harris’ versatility goes back to his playing days at Lloyd C. Bird High School. That is where he competed as a quarterback, receiver and defensive back. He was actually rated the 68th-best receiver in the nation by Scout.com, as the first-team Associated Press All-Group AAA and Times-Dispatch Top-12 A-List of Richmond choice also received a three-star prospect grade from Scout.com.
Harris was a two-time all-state and all-region selection as a defensive back and named to the 2010 All-Dominion District first-team as a utility player. He also earned all-district second-team accolades at quarterback. On defense, he allowed only one completion and notched eight interceptions his junior year. He threw for over 1,000 yards and ran for 800 yards that season. He also started on the Seahawks basketball team.
Harris made an immediate impact on special teams for Virginia as a true freshman. He saw action in every game and finished the campaign with 14 tackles as a reserve strong safety. Shifting to free safety as a sophomore, he started all 11 games, contributing 87 tackles, third-best on the team. He also had his first career interception and a trio of pass breakups.
Harris was tossed for targeting during the 2013 Miami game and sat out the first half of the Virginia Tech clash under league rules for that penalty. He started his other 11 games, but did so by returning to strong safety. He ranked third on the team with 80 tackles, as he put on a string of five straight games with at least one interception, as his eight pass thefts were the most by a Cavalier since 1994 (Ronde Barber). He also broke up six other throws, and on special teams he blocked two kicks in 2013.
Unknown to even his teammates, Harris played with a nagging shoulder problem in 2014. He would undergo surgery after the season, but not until he recorded a career-high 108 tackles, the second-highest total in a season by a Cavaliers defensive back. He also added to his career interception total with two more picks and deflected ten other throws.
Further disputing the “ankle biting” assessment, Harris made 66 of his tackles vs. the ground game, a key reason Virginia finished 20th in the nation in rush defense (120.7 ypg). He was also part of the most active safety tandem in college, as free safety Quin Blanding set the school season-record for defensive backs with 123 tackles.
CAREER NOTESHarris started 35 of 49 games at Virginia – 12 at free safety and 23 on the strong side, as he recorded 289 tackles (145 solos) with two sacks for minus-12 yards and six stops for losses of 39 yards … Caused two fumbles, deflected 19 passes and intercepted eleven others for 95 yards in returns, also gaining 13 yards on a pair of blocked punt runbacks.
NCAA Career-Record Results: Among active NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision players, Harris ranked 22nd with 144 assisted tackles and 34th with 289 total tackles … Placed 20th with 11 interceptions and 38th with 30 total passes defended.
School Career-Record Results: Harris’ 289 tackles rank second in school history among defensive backs, topped by only Anthony Poindexter (342; 1995-98) … His 11 pass thefts tied Pete Schmidt (1967-69), Andy Minton (1968-70), Derrick Glasper (1975-78), Jason Wallace (1987-90), Keith Lyle (1990-93) and Shernard Newby (1999-2002) for 10th on the school career-record chart.
School Season-Record Results: Harris’ eight interceptions as a junior in 2013 are topped by only Keith McMeans (nine in 1987) on the Cavaliers season-record list.