Winner of The Main Event: Charles Harris
Between the two teams that faced off in Knoxville on Saturday, 100 points were scored. With that in mind it doesn’t seem just to declare anyone on either defense the winner of the day. Both players, however, despite the final score had moments where they show cased their first round level talents.
Derek Barnett and Charles Harris are both competing within a very tight and top heavy class of pass rushers this season. Both edge defenders have shown an interest and ability to be effective in defending the run in addition to their superior ability to rush the passer. Finding defenders that can play all three downs has become increasingly important in the modern NFL. NFL offenses play so fast these days that they often do not give defenses a chance to sub in special packages of players for certain situational football like they used to be able to. Combine speed of play with the ability for RBs to play WR, TEs to play WR, and QBs with an ability to run like RBs it is easy to assume players like Barnett and Harris will be viewed as a premium.
While they are both three down players, they are very different players. Barnett, who was number 9 on my most recent big board plays with power at 6’3 and 265 pounds. He leverages tackles well with his hands and his lower body. He isn’t twitchy quick off the snap but consistently finds a way to beat his blocker and has a nose for the QB. He does enough to hold up at the point of attack to make teams run away from him instead of test him at his RE spot. A lot of experts project Barnett as a 3-4 OLB. I respectively disagree. Barnett seems slow in space and in pursuit. I think his future would be best with his hand in the dirt as a 4-3 end on either the right or left side. Derek had a nice game, albeit nothing flashy today, as he tallied 6 tackles, 1 QB hurry, and 1 sack (he was unblocked on the sack). He continues to make plays in big spots for the Vols. One thing he will have to work on is to decrease the number of offsides penalties he commits. He added another one to the season total today-extending a drive.
Harris, who currently sits at 21 on the big board (I think I have him higher than almost everyone else), plays with more finesse and quickness than Barnett. He is a complete pass rusher as he combines elite speed off the snap with a series of developed pass rush moves. He has such a good first step that his opponent is so quickly in a back pedal and off balance that Harris can even beat him on a simple bull rush (as he did today for a QB hurry). Harris is not as his best when teams run directly at him as he doesn’t have the ideal bulk to take on a blocker and stack the line. He is at his best when he is asked to shoot the gap and disrupt the play in the backfield and when chasing down the play in pursuit. He seems to have a good understanding of the game and does a good job staying in the cut back lanes preventing big plays. Harris had 6 tackles and 2 QB hurries today. The box score reads that he did not record a sack but he did bring down Josh Dobbs on a third down play in the backfield as Dobbs was trying to escape the pressure. I wonder if the game was played in Missouri if that would have been a sack. Harris looks like his best position in the NFL might be as a 3-4 OLB as he would need to put on a another 5-10 pounds of muscle to be an every down 4-3 end.
I went into the game thinking that there was a more significant difference in NFL potential between the two prospects than I found after the game. I will still have Barnett rated higher overall than Harris but the gap between the two isn’t as large as most think. With that said, the winner is Harris, by a small margin.
While you are enjoying college football this weekend join NFL scouts by putting your grade on these marquee individual match-ups with draft implications. We will revisit the “Main Event” early next week to see who came out on top of their battle.
#9 Derek Barnett, Tennessee, Edge Rusher
#91 Charles Harris, Missouri, Edge Rusher
#9 Gabe Marks, Washington ST, WR
#4 Chidobe Awuzie, Colorado, CB