It’s a mark of just how good the linebacker class in the 2022 NFL Draft looks that Alabama linebacker Christian Harris isn’t almost an afterthought.
In almost any other draft, Harris would be one widely discussed. After all, any player who has his athletic traits, was as productive as he was in Nick Saban’s defense, and got better every year would be a sought-after prospect. But this year we have such a deep class of smart, athletic, and accomplished linebackers that’s it’s tough for any to stand out.
That could be good news for a team like the New York Giants. The Giants have long needed an athletic long-term answer at the second level of their defense. This year the Giants might have several options available at great value on the second day of the draft, and one of them could be Christian Harris.
Games Played: 40
Tackles For a loss: 26.0
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 6
Games Played: 15
Tackles For a loss: 11.5
Forced Fumbles: 2
Passes Defensed: 3
Best: Athleticism, communication, versatility, discipline
Projection: A starting off-ball linebacker with scheme versatility.
Alabama’s Christian Harris is a smart, disciplined, athletic, and versatile linebacker prospect.
Harris usually aligns as an off-ball linebacker in Alabama’s defense, playing both outside and inside linebacker roles. He does line up on the line of scrimmage on occasion, generally when asked to rush the passer off the edge or as an A-gap blitzer.
Harris is a smart, experienced linebacker who is very active in the pre-snap phase of the play. He does a great job of communicating with his teammates before the snap, helping them to get lined up. Harris shows his discipline after the snap, trusting his athleticism and waiting for the offense to declare itself before reacting.
Harris is a very athletic linebacker who moves easily in space, has great range, and comes downhill very quickly. Harris quickly gets good depth when dropping into coverage and does a good job of picking up players as they enter his area of responsibility. He flies to the ball once he commits, and has the athleticism to take aggressive angles to the ball. But while his angles are aggressive, he generally picks smart, efficient routes and does a good job of anticipating ball carriers’ paths. He also has enough speed to run with tight ends and running backs down the field in man coverage.
Harris is also a capable run defender – both on the play side as well as in pursuit. Harris is dogged and fast in pursuit, consistently hustling to the ball. He shows surprising play strength on the play side, routinely taking on blocks from offensive linemen without being overwhelmed. He does a great job of using his length and technique to keep his body clean. Harris consistently wins inside leverage, allowing him to discard blocks and make plays on ball carriers. He’s a hard hitter with a strong closing burst and solid tackling form.
Harris is a capable blitzing linebacker who makes great use of his athleticism and technique to disrupt in the backfield. He does a good job of disguising his intentions when showing blitz, and is always a threat to rush or drop into coverage. Harris’ agility allows him to execute stunts and twists, exchanging gaps with teammates and creating confusion along the line of scrimmage. His burst and speed into the backfield allow him to create pressure even when he isn’t able to get to the quarterback. He is able to beat blockers to landmarks and has the technique to beat their blocks relatively quickly.
While Harris is able to use his football IQ and technique to play bigger than he measures, he is undersized for the position. At 6-foot, 226 pounds, Harris comes in under ideal measurements for an NFL linebacker. His relative lack of size does show up on occasion, particularly when blockers have sound technique themselves. Likewise, bigger tight ends can give Harris problems in coverage.
Harris can, at times, be too disciplined and slow to act. He doesn’t play a truly instinctive brand of football and is instead a “read and react” linebacker. Harris can occasionally wait too long before committing to a course of action, putting him behind the play. When Harris does guess on plays, he can be prone to biting hard on misdirection and taking himself out of plays entirely. He can also occasionally lose his situational awareness, and get caught in traffic created by route combinations.
Overall Grade: 7.7
Christian Harris projects as a starting off-ball linebacker at the NFL level, and will likely have his highest ceiling as a WILL linebacker.
Harris is smart, disciplined, athletic, versatile, and was highly productive in Nick Saban’s sophisticated defense. That suggests that Harris will have a short learning curve when making the jump to the NFL and should be a productive player right away.
Teams would do well to get Harris playing as fast as possible as quickly as possible, which could mean limiting his responsibilities early in his career. Harris is a very smart linebacker, but he seems to have a tendency to want to be absolutely sure before he commits to a course of action. He has plenty of athleticism to make up time at the collegiate level, but the game is just faster at the NFL level. Putting Harris in a position where he can read the offense quickly, or knows what he’s going to do before the ball is snapped, would make great use of his impressive athleticism.
Harris’ football IQ suggests that it wouldn’t take long for him to get traction at the NFL level and take on a larger workload. He played much faster, and more effectively, against Georgia in the National Championship game than in the SEC Championship. Eventually, Harris could be a WILL linebacker who mans shallow coverage zones, matches up with tight ends and running backs, spies athletic quarterbacks, and is a frequent blitzer.