Brandon Harris, CB, Miami
We continue our series with Miami cornerback Brandon Harris. In 38 games with the Hurricanes, Harris picked up four interceptions, 130 tackles (91 solo), 26 passes defensed, four forced fumbles, and 15 kick returns for 337 yards. Harris' relatively low career interception total is an indicator of both sides of the learning curve -- while he dropped a number of potential picks (and got burned for many touchdowns) in 2008, Harris was good enough in coverage by his junior season of 2010 to force enemy quarterbacks to throw the other way.
Pros: Adjusts well to motion pre-snap. Trails receivers tightly on timing and crossing routes and has the short-area speed to recover on digs and comebacks. Closes exceptionally well on screens and swing passes. He'll lose one-on-one jumping battles because of his height, but he has a great sense of timing to leap as the receiver starts to descend. Excellent sense of play direction; you don't see him getting fooled out of a potential play by receiver moves or quarterback fakes. Seems to have an innate sense of when to be aggressive and jump a route, and when to hang back and tackle. Clearly responds to coaching and learns from his mistakes in coverage.
Decent form tackler in run support for his size (5-foot-11, 195 pounds), though bigger players will drag him and he'll have to wait for help at times. Doesn't shy away from lining up to set the edge. Quick enough to avoid getting beaten by jukes in space, and he doesn't hesitate to being a knock once he zeroes in.
Cons: Harris is a better man corner than he is in zone, especially zone where he's playing off. Less of problem when he's playing under with or without safety help, but he seems to get a bit lost with a bigger zone to defend. Faster receivers who can push off will gain advantage -- Harris will struggle to catch up at times. Passes defensed numbers are partially inflated because he has a habit of slapping the ball away even when he could go for the pick.
Conclusion: If Harris was two inches taller, we'd be talking about him as a top-15 draft pick. But as he stands (literally), he's still got enough talent to start his path in the NFL as an outstanding nickel corner and make the transition to starting cornerback in a system in which pure man-speed is more important than zone recognition and the ability to tackle. With continued focus on his technique, he should be able to meet good coaching all the way and make a real difference for his NFL team.
NFL Comparison: Brent Grimes(notes), Atlanta Falcons