It didn’t take long for New York Giants fans to appreciate the play of Damon Harrison. In his first season with the Giants in 2016, Harrison established himself as one of the best defensive tackles in the game. He was a first-team All-Pro, though he wasn’t voted to the Pro Bowl. He became the 55th player since the merger and 14th since 2000 to be voted first-team All-Pro by the AP without a Pro Bowl appearance.
That type of slight isn’t new for Snacks, who has yet to make a Pro Bowl in his six-year career. One place that has consistently given Harrison credit and proper due for his play has been Pro Football Focus. In the first part of their Top 50 Players for 2018 list, PFF ranked Harrison 44th (teammate Odell Beckham Jr. landed at 47).
Here’s what PFF said of Harrison in the writeup:
In a league that has become ever more pass-oriented, Harrison is still able to stand out as a run-defending monster. He once again led all interior defensive linemen in run-stop percentage (15.8 percent) – a statistic that might as well be named after him at this point. He has led the league in every season of his career after a rookie season that saw him play just 22 snaps. He has topped 40 defensive stops in the run game for three consecutive years and has as many seasons of 40-plus run stops as every other defensive tackle in the league combined since 2006.
It’s high praise for a player who did not make the NFL’s most recent Top 100 players list, not that we should take those rankings remotely seriously.
The main point is Harrison is quite good at what he does — the best, really — and he should be appreciated for that more.
Harrison is the top run stopper in the league and even as the run game continues to play a less significant role in the modern NFL, Harrison is so good at defending it, he’s able to make it matter. PFF has Harrison down for 40 run stops last season, while NFL GSIS has him with 46. The actual number matters less than the fact it’s still the highest in the league among defensive tackles.
Tackles can be liberally handed out by official scorers, but there’s no doubt Harrison’s presence in the middle of the line makes a difference. Even as the Giants significantly regressed on defense from 2016 to 2017, Harrison was a wall in the middle of the line.
Per Sharp Football Stats, opposing teams only averaged 3.0 yards per carry when running up the middle against the Giants — well below the league average of 3.8 yards per carry.
The thing about Harrison is there really isn’t a great way to stop him and he can make his way into the backfield in a variety of ways.
Here he works a swim move against an initial block from the center, then fights through the guard to make a tackle for no gain.
Below is Harrison cutting so quickly to the outside shoulder of Kelechi Osemele, he makes one of the league’s best guards look like he’s never run blocked before.
And even though Harrison is a 350-pound defensive tackle, he has the ability to chase down running backs to the sideline.
Perhaps the most impressive part of Harrison’s 2017 game — and a piece not talked about enough — was how he stepped up as a pass rusher when the Giants had few other options. Harrison only had 1.5 sacks and three quarterback hits per NFL GSIS, but he had 20 pressures per Sports Info Solutions charting from Football Outsiders. That was third on the team behind Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon and made up for nine percent of the Giants’ pass pressures. It was also a more than double the seven pass pressures Harrison tallied during his 2016 All-Pro season.
Harrison will play a slightly different role under James Bettcher in 2018, but wherever he is and whatever position he’s in, he’ll be able to make a major impact on the game. It’s something many Giants fans know, but something that should be noted more often.