Chris Harris Jr.’s first season away from the Broncos didn’t exactly go as planned. After missing only five games during his first nine seasons in Denver, Harris was held out of seven contests in 2020, alone.
Due to miss almost half the season, Harris finished with career-lows of 37 total tackles and two pass breakups. He did manage to snag one interception, which allowed him to continue his career-long streak of having at least one pick in each of his professional seasons.
Despite missing almost half the season, Harris is still being held among the league’s best at defending the slot. In Pro Football Focus’ latest rankings of the 32 best slot corners, Harris landed right inside the top-10 at number nine.
“Harris was the gold standard for the slot cornerback position for much of the past decade,” says Linsey. “His 94.8 PFF grade from 2011 to 2018 was higher than any other cornerback in the league, regardless of alignment. But his play began to trail off over the past two years. The 2019 and 2020 seasons were the first time in Harris’ career that he earned overall grades lower than 70.0 and allowed a passer rating of at least 100.0 into his coverage.”
“It’s worth noting that neither of those seasons were “typical” for Harris. He played almost exclusively at outside cornerback in 2019 with Denver and appeared in just nine games last year due to a foot injury in his first season with the Chargers. The 2021 season provides an opportunity under first-year head coach Brandon Staley to get back to the high-level play we’ve grown accustomed to seeing from Harris.”
What Linsey says about Harris’ past two seasons can’t be understated. Things were very different for the veteran in 2019 and 2020 and all those outside variables playing against him should no longer be present in his second season with the Bolts. The defense is going to resemble the scheme he ran in Denver and the increased usage of man coverage will play to his strengths and keep him in the scheme he wins within.
As soon as Asante Samuel Jr. gets up to speed, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Harris lose snaps on the outside to the rookie in order to keep his flaws and age from getting exploited. But either way, the Chargers are bound to get a better version of “Strap” in 2021 than they did this past season.