One of the most beautiful parts of the NFL offseason is the way hope finds its way into every single fanbase. We speculate, we postulate, we formulate, and we homer-ate.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the way we view young players with "upside" during the offseason. We begin to try and project how much Player X will improve from year one to year two of his career (the improvement is always assumed. I can't remember ever hearing a fan say "I think Player X regresses." It's just not how we're wired), or what particular skills he will hone (for example, I've heard whispers of De'Anthony Thomas trying to become more of a "complete" wide receiver. I'm not sure EXACTLY what that means, but I'm excited).
There are multiple young players on the Chiefs who may improve from 2014 to 2015. One such player is tight end Demetrius Harris, who is something of a favorite here on Arrowhead Pride.
Harris is an tough player to project. He played college basketball at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which doesn't even HAVE a football program (that blows my mind). Harris was signed to the Chiefs practice squad in 2013 after looking ... well, we'll get to that later... in the 2013 preseason. He is the absolute definition of a project.
Why would he be worth it? Because he's a 6'7 human being who (at 237 pounds at the time) ran multiple 40-yard dashes in the 4.5 second range. Quite simply, there just aren't very many people in the world who are that tall, that heavy (we'll get back to weight in a second too), and can still run that fast.
It was those tantalizing physical traits we all drooled over when Harris signed up with the Chiefs. The problem, however, was pretty simple; Harris wasn't a football player. He reported to the team at around 225 pounds, and was clearly rail-thin for the NFL. He also looked absolutely lost out on the field. And when I say "lost," I don't mean it in the way we normally say it about a player who has a few rough snaps. I mean Harris literally looked like a tall guy plucked off the street and tossed on the field in pads. He ran awkwardly, he stopped awkwardly ... he just LOOKED awkward.
After seeing him struggle like that in the 2013 preseason (as well as seeing just how skinny he was, essentially a tall wide receiver), I forgot about Demetrius Harris, as did many Chiefs fans.
Then Terez Paylor had to go and tweet this
Had a good convo with TE Demetrius Harris today. Been looking good - he has the height (6-7) and is now 257 after reporting at 225 last year— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) May 28, 2014
You have my attention.
Look, it was always clear Harris had the FRAME to add on weight. But a lot of players have the frame, and it doesn't always pan out. And, of course, there was the issue of how he'd move with a full 30 pounds of weight added on. And the whole, you know, playing football part of things.
But it was enough to make fans start thinking about Harris again. Then, in a shocking turn of events, Harris started seeing playing time in the regular season. He saw over 10 snaps for the first time against the Miami Dolphins as everyone fell in love with Andy Reid's three tight end sets (those were glorious).
Harris continued to see around 10 snaps or so a game until suffering a broken foot in Week 10. And now we're back to "projecting." Harris is a wild card simply due to his outrageous physical traits. He could be nothing. Or he could suddenly go full Jimmy Graham. The range of possibilities are that wide.
And so we turn to Demetrius Harris's snaps in 2014, trying to figure out what the Chiefs have. I observed the vast majority of Harris's snaps and tried to figure out where he was at as a player prior to getting injured.
Demetrius Harris Film
Harris was used in a few very specific ways this last season for the most part. On roughly 80 percent of his (limited) snaps, Harris was the third tight end on the line or split wide as part of a trips "bunch."
You can tell watching Harris that he doesn't have a full route tree mastered yet. I saw curls, outs, quick outs into the flat, a couple slants, and a few drag routes. That's pretty much it. So there's clearly work that needs to be done.
On the other hand, Harris has come light years as a blocker in certain situations. Harris was hardly ever asked to block directly off the line. Instead, Reid had Harris moving up and down the line of scrimmage for a variety of down blocks, or had him blocking as part of the "screens" out of the jumbo-bunch formations with Anthony Fasano and Travis Kelce (MAN I loved those).
Harris is clearly much, much bigger. When you see him out there (the times he was split wide) he still looks a little bit like a wide receiver, but an absolutely massive one. Being 6'7 makes even 255-plus pounds look pretty svelte. But he's no longer a beanpole. And it really showed up in his blocking. Harris clearly understands the way for a guy with his (as of 2014) somewhat limited technical skillset to get on the field is to be willing to chuck his body into blocks and do it well.
He was a big part of the Chiefs running all over Miami, sticking multiple blocks like this one.
The block Harris makes is the difference between a loss and a six-yard gain on this play, and Harris did it perfectly. It was this exact type of block Harris excelled in last season, and it forced defenders on the edges to keep their heads on a swivel, never knowing when a really, really, really tall guy was coming to mess up their day.
This is a type of block I just can't see Harris making last year. He would've snapped in half trying to take on a linebacker, even going low on a down block. Additionally, Harris set the block up well and used solid technique, something you could have never said about him at any point in 2013.
Harris also had his share of solid blocks on the outside of the field. We all remember Travis Kelce morphing into Zeus after the catch last season, but on several plays Harris helped pave the way by sprinting across the field and shoving a hapless defender out of position.
We all remember the great cut Kelce made here to gain good yardage. But without Harris's hustle the play is unlikely to go the way it did (barring Kelce, you know, just doing more Kelce things. Which can't be ruled out).
The few times Harris was asked to take on defenders more directly, he demonstrated his newfound strength by holding his own. However, you can see the reason Reid didn't have Harris block directly off the line. His technique still needs a lot of work. He lunges too much and struggles with proper hand placement. This resulted in a couple of whiffs when he was asked to run block off the line.
However, when Harris was able to get his hands on a guy (which was the majority of the time), he generally was able to either win or stalemate the defender and pave the way for a runner. The raw material is there, which is almost always the case in run blocking when a player is willing to put forth the effort. Harris absolutely is willing to do so.
Of course, raw material is still ... raw (scorching hot take there, I know). Harris still has a ways to go if he wants to be a guy on the field in a more traditional tight end role. But he was a useful player in the vast majority of his snaps, which is something that simply can't be said for most undrafted free agents in their second season.
Now ... about Harris as a receiver.
The biggest problem is we're dealing with a REALLY small sample size. As in, like, 15 snaps sample size. That said, you can see a few patterns emerge watching Harris run routes.
First, he's got a lot of work to do. He's not fast when asked to cut, and he just flat-out does not run pretty routes. The only way you could view his route running as a positive is if you compare it to what he looked like in 2013. When you do THAT, you start feeling very encouraged. In 2013 Harris looked totally, utterly, and completely out of place. In 2014, Harris looked like a raw route-runner who actually DOES play football. There is a massive difference between the two.
Obviously Harris hasn't come far enough in this area or Reid would have had him on the field more. And I'm not entirely sure whether Harris will ever be able to run a complete route tree with his lack of "suddenness." He's just not quick, and that's highly unlikely to change. But Harris has something most tight ends don't; the ability to just run right by linebackers. Both of the following screenshots are from the 49ers game, and both show why the Chiefs locked Harris up for three years (well, technically he's an exclusive rights free agent, which is basically the same thing as "he's under contract if the Chiefs want him").
In both pictures, Harris is matched up against a linebacker. And in both pictures, Harris just runs away from them. And it happens very, very quickly. Harris's lack of quickness in a short burst evaporates when he's running farther than five yards or so, as his ridiculously long legs just out-stride (not a word, no) linebackers. This explains why he was able to run a blazing fast 40 for his size despite not being a "quick starter."
That second picture in particular is going to keep me up at nights. If Harris masters routes going up the seam (which aren't really difficult to master, considering it's mostly a straight-line gig), he's going to create problems for defenses. There just aren't very many linebackers and football (and even a great number of safeties) who will keep up with him past 10 yards. And, of course, any time you place a corner or safety on Harris you're going to be giving up roughly a foot in height (give or take).
Harris absolutely wasn't ready to be a full time player last season. But his jump from year one to year two was massive. Now, does he plateau (spelled that right the first try. It's a great day for public schools) at this point? Does his progress slow down? Or does he take another massive step forward?
I have no idea. But Harris is going to be one of the most interesting players the Chiefs have this season (assuming they bring him back, which seems very, very likely). He wasn't a football player in 2013. He was a raw football player with some useful blocking skills in 2014. Again, it's a massive jump.
Trending up? Man, I certainly hope so. Keep an eye on Harris when OTA's and training camp finally roll around.