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Miami Dolphins defensive end Charles Harris (90) during pre-season game at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida on August 10, 2017. (Allen Eyestone / The Palm Beach Post)

Miami Dolphins

Two years into his NFL career, is it time to call Miami Dolphins pass rusher Charles Harris a bust?

Charles Harris is on the verge of being classified as a first round bust for the Miami Dolphins. After a productive college career at the University of Missouri, Miami made Harris the 22nd overall pick in the 2017 National Football League Draft. The team chose him over pass rushers such as Takkarist McKinley and TJ Watt whose respective teams have seen much more production out of the players than Miami.

But now, Charles Harris has a chance to endear himself to a new coaching staff. Will he play faster as a result? If so, he will be going back to his roots at Missouri as some of the traits that had scouts impressed with the pass rusher were his fast first step, his athleticism, and his elite bend to get around and under offensive tackles. However, this skillset hasn’t translated to the NFL. Harris often looks slow off the line of scrimmage and is easily blocked out of plays by opposing tackles. What happened to the fast first step and elite bend?

Since coming into the NFL, Harris seems to be overthinking things instead of letting his natural football instincts take over. He’s routinely slow off the ball which gets him to the party late, and once he’s in position to put a move on a blocker, he looks like a statue that doesn’t know what to pull out of his arsenal.

According to our own exclusive Pro Football Network Analytics, Harris pressured the quarterback on 9% of his pass rushing opportunities. That number might not seem like much, but to put this into context, his teammate and potential future Hall of Famer Cameron Wake posted an excellent percentage of 12%. Where Harris’ flaws affect his production is in sack number. In this category, out of 177 pass rushing attempts, he was only able to register a sack 0.5% of the time.

For comparison’s sake, Harris finished 2018 with a PFN Impact Grade of just 1 out of a possible 100 (which would be impossible to achieve; defensive player of the year Aaron Donald finished with a 6 ). The Atlanta Falcons’ Takkarist McKinley finished with a PFN Impact Grade of 1 as well but finished with a slightly higher pressure rate of 10%. Pittsburgh Steelers pass rusher TJ Watt finished the season with a trip to the Pro Bowl and a PFN Impact Grade of 4, which is considered elite.

In Pat Kirwan’s book “Take Your Eye off the Ball,” he uses two metrics to grade front seven defenders and offensive linemen. The “Explosion number” is used to measure a player’s estimated explosion off the ball and into another exploding lineman (I recommend you read the book to see his formula). According to Kirwan, anyone with a 70 or higher should grab your attention.

Harris’ explosion number at the combine was a 62.1, which was 5th out of the seven defensive ends drafted in the first round that year. Atlanta selected McKinley with the 26th overall pick – his explosion number was 67.7 (4th out of seven), and Pittsburgh chose the younger brother of Houston Texans superstar JJ Watt, TJ whose explosion number was 68.7 (3rd).

I point out these stats to show that Harris was not the most powerful option, nor was he the most productive in college between the three players. According to Kirwan’s “production ratio” (which measures a players productivity by adding total sacks and tackles for loss divided by the number of games played), Harris finished his college career with a 1.5, McKinley finished with a 1.6.

Harris just completed his second season in the NFL so is it fair to call him a bust? Or,  will he be able to salvage his career and become an effective pass rusher in the NFL? My personal belief is that this year fans and, more importantly, his coaches will be happy with the boost in production from the former 22nd overall pick. Not everyone is as talented as Myles Garrett or Joey Bosa who can come into the league and make an immediate impact. Most players see their biggest jump going from year two to year three when NFL life finally starts to click.

Amidst the sweeping changes coming to the Dolphins this year, Harris will presumably see the most playing time of his young NFL career which will provide him with more opportunities to make an impact. He won’t have to worry about having to make something happen on his limited snaps because he will have the entirety of the game to feel out the competition and get himself in a groove.

Harris may never transform into a perennial Pro Bowler or 15 sack a year player, but I believe that Harris can turn himself into a reliable and productive pass rusher in this league.

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