When Denver defeated San Diego in the divisional round of the playoffs last January, there was one piece of bad news. Harris, who had to leave the game in the third quarter, had partially torn his ACL. He would be lost for the remainder of the team's playoff run.
With him out of the game, San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers caught fire, took advantage of the hole left in the secondary with Harris out and connected on several big pass plays.
He nearly brought the Chargers back to win the game.
The Broncos still qualified for the Super Bowl, but the loss of Harris was huge.
This offseason, the team chose to part ways with veteran cornerback and likely first-ballot member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame Champ Bailey. In addition, they lost Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to free agency.
That means Denver will be counting on Harris in a big way this coming season.
After being undrafted out of Kansas in 2011, Harris has carved a role into the Denver defense while becoming one of the better nickelbacks in the league.
He has 198 tackles, seven interceptions and 32 passes defensed in his three years in the league. He also had a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown in December 2012 against Baltimore. That stands as the longest interception return for a touchdown in franchise history.
On that play, he showed great anticipation by stepping in front of a Joe Flacco pass and racing the other way for the score.
This has all been part of the meteoric rise of Harris. He has put together comparable numbers to the best cornerbacks in the league over the last three seasons.
|Player||Tackles||Interceptions||Passes Defensed||Pro Bowls (2011-13)|
|Richard Sherman, Sea.||167||20||57||1|
|Darrelle Revis, NYJ-TB||92||7||35||2|
|Patrick Peterson, Ariz.||161||12||42||3|
|Joe Haden, Cle.||170||7||49||1|
|Chris Harris, Den.||198||7||32||0|
Still, he continues to be one of the most underrated players not only in the league, but on his own defense. While players like Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller have gotten the headlines in recent years, it has been Harris who has been doing the little things that don't always show up in the box score.
Harris is able to cover receivers on the inside or outside and he can be successful in all of the team's sub packages on defense. He can cover the middle of the field or chase down runners on the outside.
In 2014, he should be the No. 2 starting cornerback on the side opposite of Aqib Talib.
Talib and Harris both played their college ball at Kansas. In 2007, they were part of a team that went 12-1 and defeated Virginia Tech in the Orange Bowl.
Reunited in Denver, the two will be a very formidable combination.
Early in the season, teams will likely target Harris frequently with Talib lurking on the other side. With all of the opportunities he'll get, Harris is sure to make some plays.
That will force the opposition into a true pick-your-poison scenario as the season goes on.
With many of the teams in the NFL transitioning to a high-powered passing offense with tight ends built like linebackers but have the speed of wide receivers, the physical play of Harris is what teams will start to covet defensively.
This is exactly the model Seattle used to win the Super Bowl.
At just 5'10", Harris is still a very physical player who, along with Talib, could help the Denver defense start to pattern themselves the same way the Seahawks do.
Harris is also a solid tackler, as good as anyone on the team. He routinely comes up from his spot in the secondary to put a hit on someone.
This is something Bailey was always very good at doing, and Harris clearly soaked up what he could by watching one of the best to ever play the position operate.
Blessed to be able lineup opposite Champ and learn from a Great . Will def be missed . http://t.co/shShhj6PtX— Chris Harris (@ChrisHarrisJr) March 6, 2014
That will be a driving force in Harris' career.
During his first three seasons in the league, Harris has been surrounded by players like Bailey, Rodgers-Cromartie and Brian Dawkins. Starting in 2014, it will be his time to shine.
Being in the shadows of some of the league's best defensive backs combined with the fact he wasn't a highly regarded player coming out of college is part of the reason Harris doesn't get mainstream attention.
His level of play indicates he should.
He might not have the most recognizable name, but Harris is a hard-nosed football player that gives his all on every play. He is an invaluable member of the Denver defense.
Being a versatile defensive back who is also a tough, physical tackler is a great combination in today's NFL.
But the biggest way for Harris to put his name up there with the best in the league is to show everyone just how much of a difference he'll make now that he will be the guy in Denver.
Bailey is gone. Rodgers-Cromartie is gone. However, both of them played in Super Bowl XLVIII. If Harris played, perhaps the result wouldn't have changed, but it might have been a different game.
Percy Harvin wouldn't have been able to gain 45 yards on two end-around runs. Doug Baldwin wouldn't have gotten behind the defense for a 37-yard reception on the Seahawks' second possession.
A healthy Harris will be a difference maker for Denver going forward.
The names of Richard Sherman, Darrelle Revis and Patrick Peterson frequently get tossed around when discussing the best cornerbacks in the NFL. Prepare to start hearing Harris' name in that discussion.
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