For most of the pre-draft process, the assumption has been that two safeties would be drafted in the first round of the 2018 NFL Draft on April 26 – Minkah Fitzpatrick of Alabama and Florida State’s Derwin James.
Of the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Harrison, who amassed 74 tackles, 4.5 tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks and three interceptions for the Crimson Tide in 2017, Miller wrote regarding his being the final pick in Round 1, ”It’s not easy making a pick for the Philadelphia Eagles — not after the job executive vice president Howie Roseman has done building the roster. You can go position by position and struggle to find a clear need. Even those weak areas have a young player ready to step in.”
“Because of that,” Miller continued, “the Eagles might be in a prime position to trade out of this pick on draft night. In this mock draft, it makes them a perfect ‘best player available’ team. And that player is Ronnie Harrison. The physical safety from Alabama might not challenge for a starting job in his rookie year, but he’d be a dynamite third safety and can eventually become a starter.”
As NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein reported, Harrison’s size and athleticism seem ideally suited to today’s NFL. “Combination safety with all the size and athletic traits you could hope for in a safety,” he said. “Harrison is a fluid athlete with few athletic limitations and has the ability to fit into a variety of defensive schemes. His penchant for flying in shoulder first will need to get cleaned or risk giving up missed tackles and big plays. Harrison’s physical approach and urgency in run support gives him a chance to start early, but his potential in coverage and athletic ability give him a chance to become a Pro Bowler.”
Eric Edholm of Pro Football Weekly was similarly impressed by Harrison’s physical gifts. “Tremendous combination of size, length and athleticism,” Edholm wrote. “Former prep quarterback has good instincts (see Texas A&M game in 2017) and vision. Seems to find the ball often. Has lined up at both safety spots and has covered the slot as well. Excellent special-teams value — led team in coverage tackles in 2016, played on almost every unit over three years and blocked two kicks in his career.”
“A hammer in the run game — see Auburn and LSU games in 2017,” Edholm went on. “Can race to the perimeter to make plays and also close quickly inside. Plays downhill with a linebacker’s mentality against the run.”
However, at least on NFC executive told Zierlein that while Harrison’s an impressive specimen his ability to direct traffic on the back end needs some work. “He’s a feisty guy,” the executive said. “Big and athletic but he’s not really the brains of the defense over there. He’s not really ‘that dude’ who runs the show and I don’t think he’s going to be that kind of guy in the pros. He handles his work though.”
Another scout told Edholm that Harrison should be quality NFL starter, but he isn’t sure he’ll ever be a star. “Don’t know if he’s special,” the scout said, “but he makes a few eye-opening plays. They had him all over the place. He’s got a pretty high floor and will start in this league.”
For his part, Harrison told Michael Casagrande of AL.com that he’s equally comfortable calling out coverages and laying out running backs. “That’s what I’m supposed to do,” Harrison said. “I played free safety and I’m kind of like the head-banger back there so (big hits are) what I’m supposed to do. Playing quarterback in high school, I made a lot of checks and made a lot of calls and did a lot of the offensive work. Coming into Alabama, it was easy for me to get out there and make checks and calls in the back end. I’m used to communicating a lot with my teammates.”
Harrison may have been a free safety at Alabama, and he has the speed to ostensibly play the position as a pro. But as Michael Middlehurst-Schwartz pointed out for USA Today, Harrison — at this point in his career, anyway — appears much more comfortable close to the line of scrimmage than in man coverage.
“If Fitzpatrick was Alabama’s safety for a new era of football,” he said, “Harrison was the throwback — a hard hitter primarily focused on separating the ball from the receiver. With prototypical size and speed, he could become a versatile piece if his coverage skills catch up to his run support ability. For now, his value is as a downhill tackler — though he’ll have to reel back a sometimes reckless style of play. And if he can’t adapt to a broader role, he’ll likely need to pack on more weight in order to survive as a box safety at the pro level.”
From an IDP perspective, those limitations could actually be a blessing in disguise – fantasy owners want a safety who spends more time in the box. But if Harrison’s coverage issues become such a liability that his snaps suffer, that blessing could become a curse pretty darn quick.
Long story short, Harrison’s Individual Defensive Player (IDP) value (in 2018 at least) is going to depend greatly on what team selects him in the draft. If Miller’s right and Harrison lands in a situation where he’ll be eased in (although to be fair in Philadelphia Harrison might push Rodney McLeod right out of the gate) and begin his NFL career as a third safety, the youngster’s little more than a late flier in very deep IDP dynasties.
However, in a more favorable landing spot where Harrison has a clear(er) path to early playing time, he has the potential to emerge as a contributor in redraft formats as well —perhaps one that will be available for pennies late on draft day.
In other words, just the sort of inexpensive upside play that savvy IDP owners should target.