by Jeb Kush
Today, the Patriots signed ex Jet linebacker David Harris. Over his career, Harris has been one of the most consistent and productive linebackers in the NFL. Harris is number four on the Jet’s all time tackle list with 1,088 career tackles, and has led the Jets in tackles in each of his last 3 seasons. Harris has also been the main communicator on defense, a team captain, and a leader in the locker room throughout his career. Additionally, he has only missed one game in his past 8 seasons in the NFL. While he has been incredibly productive throughout his career, there has been some drop off in his production since coming out of his prime. He had 120+ tackles in 2012, 2013, and 2014. But he only had 95 last year.
Granted, David Harris is one of the best linebackers in the history of the New York Jets. But he is now heading into his 11th season in the NFL and was recently cut. This begs the question: what kind of player is Harris today? Even going into his 11th season, Harris is still a versatile player and sure tackler, rarely missing tackles even in the open field. He wraps up on almost every tackle he makes, a technique that will ensure that his tackling abilities will not decline as steeply with age as other defensive players who come flying into a guy’s neck with their helmet and forearm to make big hits (i.e. guys like Brandon Meriweather).
Harris is rarely asked to pass rush as evidence by his lone ½ sack this past season, but when he is asked to do so he rushes effectively most of the time. His pass rushing skills right now are about average for a middle linebacker. Much like his pass rushing skills, his coverage skills are average to slightly above average right now heading into his 11th year. He rarely gets in front of passing lanes make plays on the ball; however, since he wraps up consistently and has great awareness, he often quickly swallows up short routes over the middle for minimal gains. He’s a pretty instinctive and fast guy too so he can cover most tight ends in the NFL in man coverage; however, I would not currently trust him in man against any wide receivers, or against any elite tight ends or good pass-catching running backs given the fact that he’s an 11th year middle linebacker and he has started to show a few signs of aging.
Harris will fit well into the Pats system given his versatility, and given the fact that Belichick absolutely loves him. Bill had an interview where he compared Harris to Jerod Mayo (a pro bowl former patriot linebacker if you remember). During the interview Belichick also raved about Harris’ consistency, productivity, and versatility. The Harris signing is also a good sign for the Pats linebackers in general because it adds depth and versatility to a group that is not particularly stellar outside of star Dont’a Hightower.
Fellow linebackers likely to see significant playing time Shea McClellin, Kyle Van Noy, and Elandon Roberts have all shown some flashes of potential but not much more than that. McClellin developed a bigger role down the stretch of the season but needs to prove he can be a consistent outside linebacker in the NFL. Rob Ninkovich is a versatile Patriot most Pats fans have grown fond of over the years, but he is heading into his 12th season now, and it shows at times. One such time occurred in the Super Bowl when Tevin Coleman and Ninkovich were matched up one on one and Coleman scampered in easily for a wide open touchdown catch. Ninkovich as an old outside linebacker who used to be a defensive end has no shot of keeping up with players with the athleticism and speed of Coleman. Maybe the Harris signing will bolster this linebacking corps, maybe it won’t. Time will tell. The Patriots have an absolutely stacked team regardless so maybe it won’t even matter.