Today's NFL is a passing league.
The game has been taken over by the forward pass, and for good reason. That's why quarterbacks are protected by the rules, highly sought after, and highly paid. It's the same for wide receivers, cornerbacks, and pass rushers.
When the New York Giants looked to free agency to renovate their defense it was the signings of Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins (sorry, Jackrabbit) that garnered the bulk of the discussion. When defensive Damon Harrison was mentioned, he was always regarded as a good player. But most writers, analysts, and pundits wondered why the Giants would give such a rich contract to a player who is "just a run stopper."
The answer is that the man known as Snacks isn't just a run stuffer.
He is the best damn run stuffer in the NFL.
I've had my issues with Pro Football Focus in the past, but chief analyst Mike Renner has put together an excellent breakdown of what makes Snacks so great.
It’s almost difficult to believe that a player of his caliber was toiling in obscurity in his college days at William Penn University, an NAIA school in Oskaloosa, Iowa (it also means his college tape is pretty hilarious to watch). It’s also difficult to believe that after only seeing 22 snaps as a rookie, Harrison has been the most dominant run-stuffing nose tackle every single other year of his career. The numbers and plays above don’t lie, Harrison is the Teaching Tape for the nose tackle position, and at the moment it isn’t even close.
Snacks does the dirty work for the Giants’ defense, and his dominance in the middle gives the rest of the defense the freedom to make plays. Much like the secondary’s ability to lock down opposing receivers, the strength that Snacks gives the Giants up the middle not only gives Steve Spagnuolo opportunities (by forcing teams into passing situations) but also the freedom to scheme creative blitzes and bring pressure from unexpected sources and angles.
Giants fans have seen it again and again — even if they weren’t looking for it at the time: Snacks has the rare ability to command and control double teams and still finish the play himself.
One of only NTs in league who can consistently finish plays, even versus double teams pic.twitter.com/MaJ1TrxiGo— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) May 31, 2017
Of course it also helps that he can toss the league's best C aside like he's a HS OLman pic.twitter.com/wEJ5hf1K9F— Mike Renner (@PFF_Mike) May 31, 2017
There is more to Snacks than just uncommon size, strength, and quickness. He has patience, discipline, and skill as a defender; Harrison reins in his aggression until it’s time to make the play. In that he is an ideal player for Spags’ defense. Spagnuolo constantly encourages his players to play faster and with more aggression — to make their mistakes out loud. But at the same time, he runs a thinking man’s defense, and players have to be smart and aware to thrive in it.
Harrison is all of those things.
Snacks is more than “just” a run stuffer. He has proven to be a rock in the middle of the Giants’ defense, a fan favorite, and and is growing into one of the leaders.
Snacks was a Pro Bowl snub this year, and you would be hard pressed to find 95 football players who are better at football than Damon Harrison.