From now until the 2022 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to scout and create profiles for as many prospects as possible, examining their strengths, weaknesses, and what they can bring to an NFL franchise. These players could be potential top 10 picks, all the way down to Day 3 selections and priority undrafted free agents. Today, I’ll be profiling a linebacker prospect that has turned out starters at the professional level regularly over the past decade, and a strong end to the 2021 season has him looking to be the next man up for the Crimson Tide.
#8, Christian Harris, LB, Alabama (Junior) – 6004, 226 lbs.
|Player||Ht/Wt||Hand Size||Arm Length||Wingspan|
|Christian Harris||6004/226||9 5/8||32 1/8||76 3/4|
|40-Yard Dash||10-Yard Dash||Short Shuttle||3-Cone|
|Broad Jump||Vertical||Bench Press|
— Has good size and length for the off-ball linebacker position
— Plays with good linear speed and explosiveness
— Able to close ground quickly in pursuit as a run-and-chase LB as well as a pass rusher
— Can mirror receivers breaking out of their routes with his change of directions skills and ability to move laterally
— Violent hitter that makes his intentions known when arriving at the ball
— Times up his blitzes well from the second level on the delayed blitz or on twists/stunts
— Can rush the passer from the box or off the edge
— Has the movement skills to match up with backs and tight ends in coverage
— Does a great job recognizing receivers running into his zone and closing space to limit separation or make a play on the pass
— Can be slow to process what is happening in from of him at times, leading to delayed reaction time against the run
— Likes to go for the knockout hit by leaving his feet, tending to lead to missed tackles
— Plenty of his sacks were low quality with an open running lane rather than him getting off blocks
— Needs to be more consistent at stacking and shedding blocks against the run
— Can lose track of tight ends and receivers vertically down the field when in man coverage up the seam
— Motor appears to run hot and cold at times, needing more consistency to play to his potential
— Junior prospect from Baton Rouge, LA
— Tabbed as a consensus four-star prospect by all national recruiting services
— Played wide receiver, safety and returned kicks for University Lab’s back-to-back state championship teams in 2017 and 2018, winning 26 consecutive games
— Selected to play in the All-American Bowl in high school
— Initially committed to Texas A&M before flipping to Alabama
— Saw time in all 13 games, including 12 starts where he recorded 63 total stops (29 solo), 7.5 TFLs, five QB pressures, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries, and a pass breakup
— Earned the starting job at will linebacker to begin the 2020 campaign and finished the year with 79 tackles (52 solo), seven TFLs, six QB pressures, 4.5 sacks, two PBUs, and an INT, winning the 2021 CFP National Championship
— Played and started in 15 games as a junior, notching 79 total stops (45 solo), 12.5 TFLs, four QB pressures, 5.5 sacks, two forced fumbles, and three PBUs
— Freshman All-SEC in 2019, Freshman All-America in 2019
LB Christian Harris from Alabama shouldn’t be a new name for fans of college football. He became a starter in his true freshman season in Tuscaloosa after being marked as a consensus four-star recruit out of high school, shunning his hometown LSU Tigers and changing his commitment from Texas A&M to roll with the Tide. The decision proved to be a fruitful one for Harris, yielding two National Championship Game appearances with one title in three seasons before declaring for the pros.
When watching tape of Harris, what sticks out initially is his athleticism and explosiveness. He played wide receiver and safety in high school but bulked up to move to off-ball linebacker, but still showcases that impressive burst and acceleration in the open field. As a run defender. Harris can cover ground quickly when freed up to run-and-chase the ballcarrier like on this rep against Georgia where he gets a free lane to the corner and sits #4 James Cook down on the turf for a loss.
While an effective sideline-to-sideline defender, Harris also has instances where he plays with great gap authority, playing with his shoulders square to the LOS and works laterally down the line to fill holes against the run. Watch this play against LSU where Harris works down the line, avoiding trash and keeps his outside leg and arm free to make a play on the back attempting to get to the outside.
While an athletic defender, Harris also has the functional strength to take on blocks and hold his own against the run. Here against Texas A&M, we see Harris work into the gap, absorb the block by #85 Jalen Wydermyer, and work off the block to keep his shoulders square bring down #28 Isaiah Spiller in the backfield for a loss on the play.
Harris’ ability to close ground quickly also shows up as a pass rusher, of which he has excelled at the last few seasons when schemed up on a twist/stunt or as a blitzer coming from the second level. In the National Championship Game, Harris racked up three sacks for his effort in pursuit of QB #13 Stetson Bennett, getting a free run at the QB, but still closing the distance between he and the passer in a hurry to make the play.
Harris has a good feel for rushing the passer not only from up the middle, but also around the edge. He turns the corner quickly and puts pressure on the passer even if he doesn’t get home like we see on this incomplete pass attempt against the Aggies.
For making a lot of splash plays near the LOS, Harris also has the functional movement skills to do well in coverage. He is an effective zone dropper that can pick up receivers running into his area and run stride-for-stride with them, minimizing separation created and make a play on the ball. A perfect example of that occurs here where he picks up the receiver running over the middle of the field and stays right on his back pocket, waiting for the QB to throw the pass and sticks his arm out to deflect the pass, knocking it straight into the hands of his teammate for the INT.
Harris also has the athleticism to carry tight ends vertically up the field and down the steam in man coverage. Last year against Notre Dame, Harris makes a great play staying sticky in coverage with #87 Michael Mayer, running with him step-for-step on the deep over concept and steps in front of the pass for the INT along the right sideline to make the splash play.
Still, Harris has moments where he loses track of his receiver in coverage and needs to play with better situational awareness. A good example occurs on this wheel route down the left sideline where Harris is in good position with the receiver but fails to locate the football and get his hands up to deflect the pass which ends up being caught for a big gain. It’s good to see Harris in good position, but execution just needs to be there to avoid the explosive play.
Here is another example of Harris struggling with situational awareness and playing too hesitant in coverage against LSU. He is tasked with covering the third receiver on the left side of the formation and is in good position, but surrenders too much cushion, giving the receiver an easy pitch-and-catch on the comeback route that he catches and turns up field to get into the end zone for the score. It’s a difficult situation to be in as a linebacker, but Harris can’t afford to give the receiver that much space to make the catch and then juke him out after.
Harris’ hesitancy not only shows up in his pass coverage, but also in his run defense as well. He takes a lot of time to read and diagnose the play, having his eyes in the backfield and being slow to trigger downhill at times. This leads him to be hesitant filling to hole at times as well like we see here against A&M where Harris has his eyes glued into the backfield instead of working through the gap, thus allowing the back to get a step on him to the outside which Harris tries to make up for by reaching out with his left arm instead of shuffling laterally to square up the back, leading to the missed tackle and him on the ground.
While Harris has the physical tools to take on and work off blocks as referenced earlier, there are too many times he allows offensive linemen to take him out of the play to be consistent in filling against the run. Here against LSU, we watch Harris do a good job of meeting #70 Ed Ingram on the pull to the right side, engaging the blocker but fails to get Ingram off his chest, driving him back where he eventually slips off to get into position to make the play, but Ingram does a great job shoving him out of the play and away from the runner.
When watching Harris’ game and how it translates to the NFL, Jarrad Davis comes to mind as another former SEC linebacker that shares nearly identical size and length along with the athletic profile in terms of being a rangy linebacker that pursues the ballcarriers as well as can rush the passer. Both players have the skill set to hold their own in coverage and run with backs and tight ends, but their instincts and situational awareness can be a tad slow at times, leading to created separation as well as delayed pursuit against the run.
Davis was heavily touted for his athletic gifs and upside in the league as a junior coming out of Florida, and while he was expected to go somewhere on Day Two, he ended up sneaking into the first round to the Detroit Lions. I see Harris is a similar vein as a talented, athletic linebacker that likely goes somewhere in that Day Two range could have a team fall in love with him and choose to select him higher than expected based on his athletic talent and potential.
Harris has operated as a signal caller at times for Saban’s defense, but best projects as a WILL LB in a 4-3 or a MACK LB in a 3-4 front like what Pittsburgh runs as an athletic, run-and-chase LB that does his best work freed up to fly to the ball and make plays.
He needs to be more consistent in his reads, play with more awareness in coverage, and consistently get off blocks, but Harris has the skill set of a three-down linebacker in the league as a 21-year-old junior with plenty of room to grow. The overall depth of this linebacker class may suppress his value come draft day, making his prospects of ending up in Pittsburgh a possible reality. Given his extensive playing experience for a Power 5 power like Alabama as well as his play downhill against the run and his coverage ability, I would expect Harris to be on the Steelers’ list of names at off-ball linebacker should they chose to select one in hopes of improving their run defense from last season.
Projection: Day Two
Depot Draft Grade: 8.1 – Future Quality Starter (2nd Round)
Games Watched: at Texas A&M (2021) vs LSU (2021), vs Georgia SEC/CFP (2021), vs Notre Dame (2020)