Overcoming limitations; Can Dwayne Harris succeed?

Wide receiver has always been my favorite football position.

It all started when I was a young lad, just starting to understand this game called football. I remember watching the Cowboys of early 90's with my Dad. Now my Dad is a man of very few words, he was never the type to yell or scream during a game. He would never show any emotion during the game, just an intense and focused stare.

There were only two times when my Dad would show emotion during a Cowboys game. One was when the Cowboys would lose, he would curse under his breath then go into his workshop and hammer something (he was a carpenter). Another was when Michael Irvin would leap into the air, use his body to shield the CB from breaking up the pass and pluck the ball from midair. Irvin would then spring up from the ground and give his signature FIRST DOWN signal.

Dad and I both would pump our fist right along with Irvin. The man was passionate and it came through the television into our living room.

When Irvin was lying on the turf in Philadelphia was one of the saddest moments I've ever witnessed on T.V. Our house was silent, and when the Philly fans began to cheer at Irvin's motionless body, it was the only time I thought my Dad could have killed someone. I would have been next to him, just looking for anyone wearing Eagle green.

But this is not a post about Irvin's greatness. Or even a post about someone who reminds me of Irvin, you know - that guy wearing number 88 on the current roster.

Instead this is a post about two other current receivers who I think Dwayne Harris needs to be paying attention to.

I was reading Tom's article - Battle of the Backups - and scrolling through the comments when I came across a comment from LDVFootball;

There are more possibilities with a Dez, Austin, Ogletree combo than a Dez, Harris, Miles combo. On 3-WR sets, you can flip Austin and Ogletree to create mismatches. Harris is not a credible outside receiver if you flipped him with Austin. He doesn't have the speed.

At face value this seems correct. The knock on Harris coming out of college was he lacked top-end speed and was less than six feet tall. His combine numbers back this up.

Name Height Weight 40 yd dash Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill 20 yd shuttle
Dwayne Harris 5’10" 203 4.55 34" 9’3" 6.77 4.21

On the other hand Kevin Ogletree seems to have all the measurable attributes you want in an outside receiver.

Name Height Weight 40 yd dash Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill 20 yd shuttle
Kevin Ogletree 6’1" 196 4.46 36" 10’2" 6.67 4.08

And for comparisons sake here are Dez and Austin's numbers as well.

Name Height Weight 40 yd dash Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill 20 yd shuttle
Miles Austin 6’2" 215 4.47 40.5 10’3" 7.09 4.14
Dez Bryant 6’2" 224 4.52 38 11’1" 7.10 4.46

I also took a look at another WR, Greg Jennings. Here are his combine numbers.

Name Height Weight 40 yd dash Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill 20 yd shuttle
Greg Jennings 5’11" 197 4.42 36.5 9’9" 6.69 4.18

I wanted to look at Jennings because he is a similar size to Harris. The biggest difference, Jennings is a faster, quicker and a more explosive athlete. Harris definitely has athletic limitations on the outside.

However, Harris was brought here to compete for the all-important slot receiver role. The standard by which all slot receivers are now measured is Wes Welker. Welker is known as an undersized, slow receiver who relies on football I.Q., quickness and Tom Brady. His Pro Day numbers (he was not invited to the NFL combine) are less than impressive.

Name Height Weight 40 yd dash Vertical Jump Broad Jump 3 Cone Drill 20 yd shuttle
Wes Welker 5’9" 195 4.65 30 9’5" 7.09 4.01

The one thing which stands out for Welker is his outstanding 20 yard shuttle time. A fast time in the 20 yard shuttle means you are able to explosively change directions, a very important attribute for a wide receiver. Also note, Ogletree put up an equally impressive 20 yard shuttle time.

So where does this leave Harris? He's not as fast as Jennings, not as tall or physical as Dez and Miles and not as quick as Welker. From a strictly athletic perspective, Harris seems caught in the middle - between being a prototypical outside WR, to being perfectly suited in a slot role.

But one thing a combine or Pro Day workout cannot measure is instincts. All you have to do is turn on the film of Harris and one thing pops out at you - the guy always seems to be open, and he always seems to make someone miss a tackle.

Athletically speaking, this does not make sense. Even though Harris played at East Carolina, a Conference USA school, he was still playing against top athletes. Last year, there were 83 players from Conference USA on an NFL opening day roster. These included players such as: Chris Johnson, Donnie Avery, Ahmad Bradshaw, Bryan McCann, Emmanuel Sanders, Roddy White, Atari Bigby, Brandon Marshall and Asante Samuel. (On a side note: Conference USA has produced some good receivers) Harris was named Conference USA Most Valuable Player in 2010.

From all accounts, Harris seems to be a hard-worker and a good teammate. On the field all he seems to do is produce.

So maybe Harris has something else working for him. If he cannot rely on athletic ability to produce the numbers he did at East Carolina, he has to have some other immeasurable attribute.

Dwayne Harris College Career Receiving

Receptions Yards Avg. TD
268 3001 11.2 20

Dwayne Harris College Career Rushing

Attempts Yards Avg. TD
86 526 6.1 6

Dwayne Harris College Career Kick Returns

Attempts Yards Avg. TD
102 2374 23.3 3

Dwayne Harris College Career Passing

Attempts Yards Avg. TD
4-9 153 38.2 2

I think Harris should pay close attention to both Jennings and Welker, as his game seems to be a hybrid of the two. He has athletic limitations similar to Welker so he can watch how he finds ways to get open and model his slot game after him. On the outside he can look at Jennings to see how he overcomes his smaller stature to be productive.

Harris should also turn on some NFL Films footage and watch Irvin and Jerry Rice perform. Irvin reportedly ran the 40 yard dash in the 4.5 range and Rice in the 4.6 range. Both guys overcame physical limitations to enjoy Hall of Fame careers.

I want to revisit Irvin for a little bit as well. One of the things I loved about Irvin was not only his passion, but his ability to make plays when it mattered most. The thing about Irvin was he was not a physical specimen. Sure he was physical, but not in the way Andre Johnson is. He had height, but not like Calvin Johnson. He was never considered exceptionally fast or quick. But he just had a knack for making a play. 

Big-time players make big-time catches in big-time situations. That's what happened.

The above quote from Harris - after his 5 catch, 127 yard, 2 TD performance - personifies Harris. He seems to have the Irvin trait, the ability to succeed despite physical limitations. Now I am not saying Harris is Irvin, far from it. But there is something there in Harris, he just always seems to make the crucial play at the crucial time throughout his college career.

Words like leader, clutch and versatile have all been used to describe Harris on the college level. 

In looking at the limited amount of film on Harris, it seems like he runs very precise routes. You do not see his QB over or under throwing passes to him, which means he runs routes at the proper depths. His lack of speed shows on film in the fact he does not get much separation from corners, but when he comes out of his breaks you can see he does not take any false steps. At the NFL level this will help against corners who are more athletic, but less technically sound than him.

You do not see Harris drop very many passes, and he has a knack for finding the endzone. Harris scored 29 touchdowns in his four year career at East Carolina. Harris has also proven to be a versatile player - something Jason Garrett seems to value - having scored touchdowns receiving, rushing, on kick returns and even throwing during his college career.

When I first started writing this fanpost I did not know where I was going to go with it. Like I first said, the WR position fascinates me. It was the position I played and studied, and it is the position I pay the most attention to.

Whenever I see Harris play, he baffles me in the same way Jason Witten does. I do not know how Witten gets open, I do not understand how he makes plays - all I know is he finds a way. Like Witten, Harris will never be talked about as a super-athlete, but like Witten he seems to accept his limitations and play within himself.

I am not sure if Harris has what it takes to make it as an NFL receiver, but I do know I am glad he is a Cowboy so I can watch him try.

Disclaimer: I know it is WAY too early to make any kind of call on Harris. I said in a different thread, the only thing Harris's preseason performance means is he should get a shot to prove himself against better competition.

Since the game though, there has been a lot of talk about Harris, and I wanted to take a closer look. I started off thinking of Ogletree as the third best receiver on the team, and nothing has changed my mind yet. But, Harris definitely intrigues me. His game just reminds me so much of Witten in you cannot athletically explain how this guy keeps making plays.

I am fully aware Harris has done absolutely nothing against starting caliber NFL players when it really matters, but it is so much fun to project!

Another user-created commentary provided by a BTB reader.

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