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Cowboys draft prospect: Running back Damien Harris

The Alabama running back could reshape the Cowboys offense.

NCAA Football: College Football Playoff National Championship-Clemson vs Alabama Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports

Name: Damien Harris
School: University of Alabama
Height: 5’10”
Weight: 216 lbs

2018 stat line: 15 games, 150 carries, 876 rushing yards, 5.8 ypc, 9 touchdowns, 22 receptions, 204 receiving yards, 9.3 ypr

Combine results: 4.57 40-yard dash, 16 bench press reps, 37” vertical, 121” broad

Everyone at this point pretty much assumes that the Cowboys will look to draft a running back to serve as the primary backup to Ezekiel Elliott for the foreseeable future, after basically saying so in their pre-draft press conference. Even before that, they didn’t bring one in during free agency and never re-signed Rod Smith. Then they sent out some pre-draft visits to running backs, perhaps the most surprising name there was Alabama’s Damien Harris.

Harris has been a consistent contributor for the Crimson Tide in all four of his years in Tuscaloosa, and because of that he’s one of the more highly thought of running back prospects in the draft. Many projections have him going in the middle or end of the second round, which means if the Cowboys were to draft him, they’d likely have to use their 58th overall pick on him.

If that happened, it would certainly change a lot of things. Perhaps it would be with the idea to groom Harris as the successor to Elliott to avoid having to pay the running back a massive contract. Or maybe it would be for the purpose of creating the Cowboys’ own version of the Mark Ingram-Alvin Kamara duo that was so successful in New Orleans. Whatever the plan may be, the Cowboys have some interest in Harris; but what kind of player would they be getting?

First of all, they’d be getting a powerful running back. Harris is a physical, downhill runner who can wear down a defense and becomes tough to stop in the fourth quarter. Harris also has a well-rounded skill set. Harris saw a lot of power running concepts at Alabama and displayed good timing and patience in his runs. He is able to wait for his blocks to get set and make good decisions when cutting through holes.

Harris isn’t the most explosive running back out there, and it does somewhat limit his ability to be an every down back in the NFL. That said, he never had less than 135 carries in his final three seasons at Alabama, which shows he can share a load with a more explosive or dynamic player. At the same time, it’s encouraging that Harris never carried the ball more than 150 times in a given year, as that leaves plenty of tread on the tires for him. Unlike with another former Alabama running back, Derrick Henry, there aren’t questions about Harris’ durability.

Quite the opposite, actually, as Harris has a full frame that he uses to pummel defenders. When going for short yards, Harris gets in great position with respect to pad level, earning the necessary leverage to smack into defenders and earn the tough yards. He has a tendency to gain an extra yard or two falling down as well, which makes him extra valuable in short situations. Harris also possesses above average balance, which helps him break tackles in the open field as well. He has some solid ability to change direction quickly, but Harris rightly uses his strength more than his agility.

He wasn’t used as a true receiving threat out of the backfield, but he’s good enough to where he can’t be forgotten about. Alabama mostly used him on screens, where he was effective enough, averaging over nine yards per reception in 2018. However, it seems as if those basic screen routes were the extent of his receiving ability. He would need to expand his route tree to truly be effective as a receiver at the next level.

Harris is also an above average pass blocker, and he uses his frame and upper body strength to more or less hold his own against pass rushers. There are times where he gets sloppy in his footwork and it exposes him, but when he has his feet right he’s not a liability in pass protection. He’s good enough to where if a team asked him to take on blitz pickup, it’s not a real risk to the team, which is almost as good as you’ll get from a rookie.

With Harris, though, it all comes back to his rugged play style. He probably compares best to Marion Barber in a lot of ways, though if he reaches his full potential he could draw some Frank Gore comparisons. Either way, Harris would make for an incredibly exciting running back tandem with Zeke. I don’t know how exactly it would work out, but it would at the very least be interesting. The lack of wear and tear on Harris is even more appealing. If the Cowboys take Harris, they’ll have to use a high pick, but Harris is such a good prospect that he just might be worth it.

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