Damien Harris Is A Powerful, Between-The-Tackles Running Back That Could Add Some Strength To The Detroit Lions Backfield.
Damien Harris could be exactly what the Detroit Lions wanted LeGarrette Blount to be, and more. The Lions wanted a short-yardage specialist in LeGarrette Blount, someone who could convert third and short yardage plays and goal-line opportunities. What they got was a running back that averaged an embarrassing 2.7 yards per carry and still didn’t convert in short yardage opportunities.
Damien Harris could be the power back that the Lions wanted, rather than the one that they got.
Harris has among the best vision in this class. He is excellent at identifying holes and attacking them. He has a good feel for the flow of the defense and knows when to attack the line of scrimmage. His decisiveness and north-south attitude are among his best traits and should be assets for him at the next level.
At 5’10” and 216 pounds, Harris isn’t a huge back, but he is a bigger one. He knows this is a strong part of his profile, and regularly uses his size to his advantage. He runs with a violent attitude, attacks defenders and fights for extra yardage. He is rarely beaten in head-on collisions and does well exploding into contact and powering through defenders.
Something that you notice when watching tape on Damien Harris is that he is rarely caught off guard and forced to win one-on-one matchups with pure leg drive without momentum. He recognizes incoming contact well, generates momentum, and attacks the defender, bringing the contact to them, rather than being on the receiving end.
Damien Harris has excellent contact balance. Unlike some of the other running backs in this class that possess good balance through contact, Harris pairs it with his size. His contact balance is far more translatable to the NFL level than some of the smaller backs in this class. His size and balance are going to make Harris a tough load to bring down between the tackles.
Harris has really nice leg drive and has the ability to move the pile at the next level. He runs through arm tackles, bounces off defenders that don’t wrap up and finishes his runs with violence, and is always falling forward. Paired with excellent vision and decisiveness, this is just about everything that you want in a power back in the NFL, and all of it appears to be traits that will translate nicely.
Harris is probably not going to be an elite contributor in the passing game. His hands are actually an underrated part of his game, but the other aspects of his receiving game are not as sound. Despite his size, strength, and violent nature as a runner, he isn’t great in pass protection. He has the frame to be able to do this at the next level with proper coaching, but it isn’t there for him right now.
He isn’t a great route runner. His athletic profile doesn’t suggest that he will ever be a great route runner. He can become more nuanced with his technique, but he is probably never going to be a matchup problem against linebackers in the passing game. That just isn’t his game. Damien Harris is fine to catch the ball on swings and screens, but he isn’t going to threaten the defense the way that some of these other backs might.
The big issue with Damien Harris is that he is just an average to above average athlete. He doesn’t appear to be limited by this on tape, but athleticism is very clearly not a strength for him. His long speed is fine, but he isn’t going to blow past defenders at the second level. His lateral agility is fine, but elusiveness just isn’t a part of his game. He didn’t do the agility tests at the combine, but I can’t imagine that his numbers would be impressive. His explosiveness is actually the best part of his athletic profile, and it complements his north-south style of running quite well.
With the Detroit Lions, Damien Harris would project as an ideal back to shoulder some of the workload and pair with Kerryon Johnson. He doesn’t have to be the third-down back, Kerryon is just fine at that, and Theo Riddick is still on the roster for now. If Kerryon went down with an injury, Damien Harris could take over the lead back role and be complemented by a more adept receiving back.
Damien Harris is among the best backs that Detroit could select for the role that they would be projected to use him in. There are other backs in this class that could carve out a role as a receiver, but few that could carry a full workload and also excel as a short-yardage specialist in the way that Damien Harris does. I think he would be a really nice mid-round selection for the Detroit Lions if they decide to address the running back position in the NFL Draft.