It happened again.
The New England Patriots drafted a guy none of us have heard of. Televised draftniks fumbled through notebooks and Excel sheets for scouting reports on a guy they were sure would go undrafted. Fans (including myself) with fingers crossed for Keenan Allen or Jesse Williams sat baffled at another apparent Belichick reach.
The pick in question was Rutgers safety Duron Harmon, the Patriots' third-round choice. Harmon was considered a seventh-rounder at best, and there was a decent chance he might go undrafted. Harmon was the 16th-ranked safety, according to NFLDraftScout.com, and only 18 safeties were picked in 2012.
There's been a lot of criticism circulating about the pick, and much of it appears warranted. Even if New England liked Harmon leading into the draft, wouldn't the general consensus about his value dictate waiting until at least the sixth round to take him? That way, they could grab another player they liked with the 91st pick and maximize their return.
So, at first glance, the Harmon selection seems like a reach. But while it's always a worthwhile endeavor to look critically at the draft picks of your organization, let's look at a few reasons why the Harmon pick was better than advertised.
Harmon's Measurables and Production are Comparable to Other Mid-Round Safeties
Nobody is saying Harmon should have been taken ahead of Kenny Vaccaro. But when it comes to the 91st pick, Harmon actually seems to be a pretty good value.
Consider the standard combine/pro day measurables we all love to get worked up over. Let's take a look at the measurables for the safeties taken immediately before and after Harmon.
Do any of these players look wildly out of place?
At a cursory glance, Shawn Williams appears to be the best of the three—he's the strongest and fastest, though the speed difference isn't great. But his broad jump is a little worse than the other two players, and that speaks to explosiveness off the line. Still, it makes sense that he went seven picks ahead of Harmon—by these (admittedly very limited) criteria at least, he's the better player, though not by much.
But is Duke Williams measurably better than Harmon? He's smaller (by an inch and 10 pounds), about the same speed (Harmon is .01 seconds faster in the 40 time), and weaker (by two reps). Duke Williams has the better vertical and shuttle, but Harmon has the better cone time, which the Pats value.
It's probably not production—over the last two years, Harmon has totalled 14 passes defended and six INTs on his way to two-time All Big-East honors. Duke Williams finished with 16 PDs and two INTs during that time.
Yes, they're different players in terms of style—Williams is physical and racks up a lot of tackles, while Harmon seems better suited to play a deep-shell than an in-the-box safety. But a glance at the surface of these two players doesn't seem to yield any indication that one should be a third-rounder and the other ought to go undrafted.
Harmon's Range and Versatility Make Him a High-Value Third-Rounder
Let's take a look at the one available film package for Harmon, from Rutgers' game against Arkansas last year.
What you see in this video is a player capable of doing everything asked of a safety. Harmon often plays in a deep shell, and he's got the range and instincts to put himself in playmaking position—the first play of the highlight tape, he's actually in good position along the route, but the throw is off-target.
There's an even better example of his ability at 1:14, where he fades into a deep shell for over-the-top support on the outside WR, and makes a bone-crunching hit to jar the ball loose from the receiver. That's a Devin McCourty-type play right there, to show instincts and good range to break on the receiver.
Rutgers also used him as a blitzer, as you can see on the second play of the reel, and again at about 00:45. They even match him up in man coverage underneath (1:40 and 2:40).
Harmon shows decent run support skills—he sometimes gets caught in the wash but at 3:00 you can see him take a nice angle on an open-field ballcarrier. Steve Gregory should take a page out of his playbook.
Harmon also appeared on special teams, which means he can replace one of the depth safeties like Derrick Martin on the roster and be a special teams contributor with upside as a shell cover safety and sub package option on passing downs. That's more than enough value for a rookie third-rounder.
Oh, and he's also got a firm check mark in the "intangibles" category, for those who care. Per the Boston Globe's Shalise Manza Young:
If nothing else, Harmon is great character guy: 3.8 gpa, model citizen, hard worker on field...can potentially play SS, FS and CB— shalise manza young (@shalisemyoung) April 27, 2013
So, Why Was He Overlooked?
Like just about everyone else, I knew the big names like Reid, Swearinger and Rambo, but I hadn't heard of Harmon before the draft. How is that the case for a two-time All Big-East player with good measurables and production?
As Dave Archibald from the great blog Dave's Breakdown points out, it's probably related to the fact that Harmon didn't get a Combine invite. The National and BLESTO scouting services overlooked Harmon, and that caused the analysts who build their own boards to overlook him too. Some NFL teams, including the Patriots, don't subscribe to those services; they build their boards from the ground up.
That means they may ultimately value prospects very differently than analysts like Mel Kiper, which leads to some moves that may seem like head-scratchers. Some of those moves pay off (hello, Sebastian Vollmer) and some of them don't (goodbye, Brandon Tate).
Ultimately, the Pats decided they wanted Harmon, and thought he was worth a third-rounder. It's entirely possible another team would have picked him before their next selection at 102, though we'll never know for sure. All we know is that the Pats valued him quite highly, so expectations for the former Rutgers safety will be high heading into his first season in the NFL.