Anthony Harris knew it. Everyone in the Minnesota Vikings organization knew it. They knew it when Andrew Sendejo walked out of the Vikings facility. Locally, fans knew it as well.
They knew that Anthony Harris is a game changer on the back end of the Vikings defense. His impact has been felt. After missing the first five games of the season, Harris came back and went on a tear in Minnesota. It was quite the tear, and he stole snaps quickly. His first game back he was in on 15 plays and by Week 9 he played 71. After Harris’ emergence, George Iloka essentially became a special teamer as the DB started to shine.
So, why is Harris not getting any love?
The unlikely rise of Anthony Harris in Minnesota
The fact that Harris broke out or even got meaningful snaps is something of a miracle. Harris was a special teams producer with little to no impact on the defense. Sendejo’s injury gave him the opportunity for significant playing time. In the two seasons prior, Harris only logged 101 meaningful defensive snaps.
That is what happens when you come out of Virginia as an undrafted free agent. Harris is a former wide receiver going back to his days in high school. Thus, the transition to safety was natural.
With 11 pass breakups, 19 interceptions, and a first-team All-America title under his belt, Harris had an impressive college career. It was a torn labrum suffered in his senior season that caused him to go undrafted in the 2015 NFL Draft.
Based on his stats and tape, it is hard to see why Harris actually went undrafted. Harris was fast, aggressive, had ball skills, and was a versatile chess piece in Charlottesville. That is the modern NFL safety. Harris falling out of the draft, even with the injury, is still puzzling.
The stats are eye-opening
Harris had an elite season for the Minnesota Vikings. Once he took over at strong safety, he was targeted only 13 times on 275 coverage snaps according to Pro Football Focus. Of the 13 targets, only seven were completed for 52 yards. He also totaled three interceptions and six pass breakups.
Those stats not only mean that Harris was a lockdown, but that teams were actively avoiding him when they were scheming a game plan. His 46 tackles were fourth in the NFL from Week 5 among strong safeties. 33 of those 46 tackles were within seven yards of the line of scrimmage in run support.
The stats paint a picture that Harris was getting it done in coverage and in run support. However, his most impressive number might be the 24.0 passer rating when targeted, which was the best during that NFL period.
In terms of pure performance, beginning in Week 5, Harris was top five among strong safeties in the league and was the perfect running mate for Smith.
Harris was huge for the Minnesota Vikings defense
In Week 9, Harris took over the starting job. With Xavier Rhodes beginning to struggle, his ascent was heavily appreciated. Sendejo’s injury never helped with a unit that was struggling, but Harris brought stability.
After Harris took over the starting role, the Minnesota Vikings only averaged 18.2 points per game, which was seventh best in the NFL during that span. Harris mainly helped Mackensie Alexander‘s game with the Vikings. Deploying a heavy cover-2 and man coverage based scheme, Alexander surrendered 100 yards the rest of the season after Harris became the primary starter in Minnesota.
It is time to stop sleeping on Harris
Before studying Harris in-depth, I never knew just how elite he was in 2018. I knew he was solid, but there was not nearly enough buzz as there should have been for him. He had an elite season that if spread out over 16 weeks, would at the very least have earned him a Pro Bowl bid and All-Pro consideration.
The national media has not talked about Harris at all, and it even seems that some were questioning why Sendejo was let go in favor of Harris. That disrespect has to stop.
Harris has established a level of play for the Minnesota Vikings that has set a clear precedent. He is a rising star and should be discussed as such. Still, he is only talked about as one of those question marks who is transitioning to a starting role. Harris has served notice that his time has come in Minnesota, something Vikings fans can appreciate.