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Shelby Harris could end up being the best part of the Russell Wilson trade

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Denver Broncos v Las Vegas Raiders Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

In my most recent article, a few readers called me on something — and 100% deservedly so. I would like to respectfully acknowledge that I completely neglected to make any mention of Shelby Harris in my re-cap of the Seattle Seahawks and their first week of Free Agency, and for that, I am disappointed in myself. This is the kind of move that could pay dividends for a team that has struggled to field a consistently threatening pass rush for years now, especially from inside the tackles. Without a true interior force, the team has had to rely on a committee of EDGE rushers and a wily blitzing safety to attack the quarterback.

Now, Shelby Harris is far from a pure pass rusher, and while he is very talented, he isn’t a consistently dominant gamewrecker; that is, we shouldn’t expect to be watching Aaron Donald on Sundays (unless of course you are watching a Los Angeles Rams game). But that doesn’t mean that he can’t be a major factor. He does profile similarly to the perennial All-Pro and future First-Ballot Hall of Famer. This is potentially good news, as Bob Condotta reports that Harris is expected to be a 3T in Clint Hurtt’s new-look defense.

This makes sense, as Pro Football Focus credits Harris with lining up over B gap 64% of the time throughout his career. The rest of his time is divided somewhat evenly between sliding inside to the Nose and kicking out to the 5T spot over tackle. Somewhat ironically, last season he lined up Over Tackle on a career-high 149 snaps (36% of his total in 2022). And what has he done with those snaps? Well, he has made life pretty hellish for opposing quarterbacks at times. Like his division rival, Derek Carr.

In the first of the two plays above, the Broncos run a stunt, as Harris lines up just between the Center and Right Guard, but ends up careening around the Right Tackle and ultimately creating a turnover. Following that, he busts out his bullrush and simply drives Alex Leatherwood back into Carr for a share of a sack. Good stuff. What I am really liking most about what I see is Harris’s ability to disrupt the play from just about anywhere along along line. Not only this, but he has a deceptively deep arsenal of moves at his disposal, as seen above.

But Shelby Harris doesn’t reserve all of his rage for divisional matchups. In the clip below, we can see him line up outside Cincinnati Bengals right tackle Fred Johnson and demonstrate a smooth getoff that allows him to turn the corner and find the QB. Impressive for a guy his size, but not entirely surprising given his 4.8 speed and plus athleticism for the position. Also worthy of note, he has a sack dance like you wouldn’t believe.

And if you couldn’t get enough, give this one a gander.

What I see in all of these clips is a high-intensity, high-motor rusher who seems to have a natural feel for collapsing the pocket. And you can see even more of this below. He doesn’t get the sack on Lamar Jackson below, but he absolutely works his man and bats the pass down at the line. These plays don’t always stand out on the stat sheet like sacks, but they can be the difference between a win and a loss sometimes... so I will take what I can get.

He also managed to swat this field goal attempt, so something tells me he knows how to use his nearly 35” arm length to his advantage.

Now, Harris is not without his share of struggles. The Denver Broncos defense, in general, struggled last season, finishing 21st in Weight DVOA per Football Outsiders. This is a far cry from the state of the team when he joined in 2016, as the defending Super Bowl champions continued their reign of defensive dominance. They finished that season ranked first overall in weighted DVOA. Since Wade Phillips, however, the Broncos have seen multiple coordinators pass through, and as such they have seen uneven defensive performances over the last few seasons. Shelby Harris has remained fairly consistent up to this point, at least by his own standards, but apparently not to the point of being in the team’s long-term plans. Still, his addition to this trade should be characterized as anything but a tacked-on veteran bound for a date with a roster cut come late summer. Or maybe he is, but that is very far from what I would expect after reviewing his film. I see much, much more room for tempered optimism.

Regardless of what ends up happening for the one-time 7th round selection out of Illinois State, his addition to the team adds depth to a position of need with a potentially high-ceiling at a reasonable price tag. They did this in conjunction with (re)-signing Quentin Jefferson, and the release of multiple EDGE rushers from last season (Kerry Hyder, Carlos Dunlap). While Shelby Harris has the size, length, and power to be a force against the run, Seattle just re-signed Al Woods and has Poona Ford. If the ex-Bronco hopes to carve a role out for himself on this team, he will probably need to start by carving out some lanes to opposing passers. Judging by what he has been doing for most of his career, I’d say he has a pretty good shot to do just that.