Raiders safety Erik Harris has flown under the radar this year while putting together a very solid overall campaign. His 33 tackles and lone career interception would undoubtedly be much higher if he had received more playing time early in the season. The constant shift in personnel also hasn’t done anyone in the secondary any favors when it comes to building a repour and playing as a unit.
“When you’re playing beside someone new each week,” Harris said after Sunday’s game. “It’s definitely a chemistry thing, but it’s not an excuse. It’s always next guy up. We expect the next guy to come in there and play well.”
When he has been on the field, Harris has shown he can be a starter in the NFL. At 6-foot-3, 225 pounds, he has the physical abilities to match up with bigger receivers including tight ends. The Raiders’ defense has lacked someone who can lock down opposing tight ends, especially in man coverage. They have that player now.
Defensive coordinators still favor press coverages in 3rd and short situations. The unique size and speed combination of NFL tight ends makes them an ideal target to beat that coverage. Harris has shown he has both the physicality and athleticism to win this matchup.
Cincinnati tight end CJ Uzomah clears Harris’ hands with a swipe and gets a good break on his “now” slant route. Erik shows great patience in his recovery. Many defensive backs would get a little handsy and possibly get called for holding as they feel beaten inside. He uses his quickness to close and has perfect position and reaction to bat the pass down. His ability to read and react was on full display during this game.
The Raiders should go with this combination of Karl Joseph and Erik Harris for the last two games. pic.twitter.com/7y0XWhvahl
— Chris Reed (@ChrisReed_NFL) December 18, 2018
This was Harris’ first carrier interception and it exemplifies both his route recognition as well as his range. It is a two-man coverage which gives him deep half responsibility to the field side. Fellow safety Karl Joseph has the responsibility of the boundary side deep half. Joseph bites on the play action which leaves a void over the top. Harris recognizes and reacts to the deep post route that is being run into that void.
His ability to not only cover so much ground but also make a play on the ball is astonishing. While he has not received much playing time during his NFL career, he has the instincts and football IQ to play at this level. Hopefully, he gets the lion’s share of defensive snaps over the next two weeks to prove it.
There will certainly be a large roster turnover this offseason given the 11 draft picks the team currently has. They will also have over $80 million dollars in cap space at their disposal to sign free agents. Harris will be a restricted free agent and should be one of the first signings the team makes. He has proven he can be a starting safety, now it is up to the Raiders to ensure it is with them.