What the Detroit Lions are getting in Charles Harris

The Detroit Lions announced that they have officially signed edge defender Charles Harris.

Harris (6-foot-3, 253 pounds), who was from Missouri, was supposed to be a 3-4 linebacker with the reach to put him in the dirt on a 4-3 scheme. He was drafted by the Miami Dolphins and asked to play on their four-man front. After three seasons, he only produced three sacks and was traded for the Atlanta Falcons for a seventh round selection.

In Atlanta, Harris played almost exclusively on the sidelines, but he stood up both with his hand in the dirt and as a standing pass rusher. The Falcons used him primarily as a depth player that could give starters a break in several marginal positions. He played on roughly 27 percent of the Falcons’ defensive snaps.

Harris is an off-offense boxer who is best served when he starts the snap with a gap between him and the offensive blocker. He has a nice first step and sideways speed, but his calling card has always been his spin. Unfortunately, beyond the spin, Harris still has to define his pass-rushing technique.

Harris was ineffective when an offensive attack grabbed him, which is part of the reason he fought in the NFL as he often lined up too close to the offensive lineman. Last season in Atlanta they still put him in a traditional marginal role, but they also put him in a wide-9 position, which gave him more time to use his athleticism to avoid blockages and carry out assignments. He only picked up three sacks in 2020, but that doubled his career achievement from his time in Miami.

In Detroit, I expect the Lions to keep him out of the tackle box and give him space to rush passers-by into situations that best suit his abilities. By keeping him out, the Lions can also use Harris to hide their intentions. He’s not a player you would want to get one on one cover with an offensive skill player, but he is capable of falling into a zone and using his lateral quickness to cover the ground.

Here’s an example of Harris lining up on the right end of Wide-9, taking cover, and then playing a game. He recognizes the quarterback (Taysom Hill) escaping from the pocket and attacks the ball to register a sack.

It doesn’t matter whether he’s playing in the dirt with his hand or from a standing position, he still has the reach to complete the drop with ease.

Harris won’t start, and may not even be in the two-depth rotation to open camp – he’ll be competing for snaps with Romeo Okwara, Julian Okwara, and Austin Bryant – but he’s a decent insurance policy on the sidelines, and one possible lottery ticket if properly developed.

It’s not uncommon for Edge Rushers to take their time to evolve – hello Romeo Okwara – and it is very likely that the Lions will be trying to unlock a level that originally made him 22nd overall.

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