RSP No-Huddle Series: NIU QB Chandler Harnish

Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish might be known as a dual threat in the college game, but he has the size (6’1″, 219 lbs.), athleticism, and fundamentals as a passer for a team to develop him into an NFL contributor. Here’s a touchdown pass from the Bowl in Mobile, Alabama that demonstrates his skill with play action, a decent release, and budding skill with the deep ball that has room to get better with work.

For more about the RSP No-Huddle Series, read here.

Harnish throws this touchdown the series after throwing a 1st and 10 interception to begin the second half. The NIU quarterback brings his offense to the line of scrimmage in an 11 personnel, 2×1 pistol with 13:38 in the third quarter.

Harnish motions his outside receiver from the twins side of the formation towards the line of scrimmage to force the defense to consider this will be an end around.

With both Arkansas St. safeties reasonably high in their alignments, the fakes on this play are designed to create a single coverage mismatch with the back side safety as the front side safety and corner react to the run. As the receiver approaches the line of scrimmage, Harnish snaps the ball and the reaction of the secondary focusing on the potential end around is palpable.

Seven of the 11 defensive players have either stopped to look at the receiver motioning to the backfield or they are drifting towards the near side of the field an anticipation of a QB-WR exchange. This gives the WR a at the bottom of the screen to get a clean release against the grain to the inside.

The play design does a lot to set up this post-snap reaction of the the Arkansas State defense, but not how Harnish is already selling the play fake with his stance as he turns towards the running back. His head is down and looking towards the ball carrier, his hips are bent into a crouch, and he appears intent on extending the ball to the back.

The genius of this play is that the offense is baiting the defense to think it is a step ahead and making an accurate read of an end around when that possibility of the end around is the con. Below is the play action in progress. Note how Harnish has his back turned to the defense and he uses his left arm to extend the ball towards the runner.

The Arkansas defense is flowing towards the potential end around with the exception of the corner at the bottom of the screen frozen outside the numbers to stay disciplined on the end around as his receiver takes an inside release.

After the initial play fake to the back, Harnish keeps his back to the defense and extends the ball towards the receiver, baiting the cornerback at the bottom of the screen to break towards the line of scrimmage as the receiver splits both defenders drifting towards the line of scrimmage.

Harnish generally does a good job of play fakes and ball fakes and this will serve him well if he can develop other aspects of his game in the NFL.

Harnish’s play fake is good enough that he takes an extra step with his back to the defense and there’s only one player, the backside defensive end who sees the quarterback is the one with the football.

The receiver on the end around does a fine job of selling the phony exchange and the nearly half of the Arkansas State defense bit on the play fake, including two defenders who should be covering the receiver streaking down field.

After Harnish takes that extra step with his back turned to the defense, he does a good job of turning towards the line of scrimmage and locating his receiver.

The underrated part of this play is that Harnish must manage the pocket against a an edge rusher with a strong angle off the corner. The quarterback does a good job of using a hitch step to climb the ladder and deliver a deep throw.

It’s difficult to see the throwing mechanics from the waist up on when viewing a still photo of this throw, but the video reveals a nice over the top motion and good weight transfer in the hips. Harnish manages a good release with a defender bearing down, thanks to just a few short steps. Many quarterbacks who rely on their legs as much as Harnish might have opted to break the pocket to his right just as the hint of this pressure. This is just one play, but it’s a good sign – and not the only play – that he is comfortable making smaller adjustments to avoid pressure and keep his eyes down field.

Pocket presence and management of tight spaces under pressure is a big deal to me when I evaluate quarterbacks. It’s an an automatic predictor of NFL success, but it’s a difficult skill for a quarterback to learn if he completely lacks it at the college level.

Harnish’s release is broken down in the photo in yellow type.

This throw is not perfect, but it doesn’t need to be. The NIU receiver has nearly seven yards of vertical and horizontal separation from the nearest defender. It’s actually smarter if Harnish errs slightly with an under thrown ball than one over the receiver’s head.

The receiver does a good job slowing his gait and curling inside to wait on the pass.

Although this pass is under thrown, Harnish still manages to deliver a 50-yard pass from the NIU 47 to the ASU 3. The pass under thrown for one of two reasons:

  • The defensive end’s pressure forced Harnish to hitch two steps and deliver the ball late.
  • The high arc on the ball caused a slower-traveling pass.

This is one of those plays I wish I could call the NIU coaching staff and ask them about it.

It’s why NFL Films producer Greg Cosell has such a great job – he can call pro teams and talk with coaches about these moments and eliminate much of the guesswork. If you haven’t signed the petition to – in my opinion – tell the NFL producers that its audience doesn’t care if Cosell didn’t play, isn’t under 45, and doesn’t look like a male model (sorry Greg, neither do I). It just wants him on television talking about the game – especially during the draft.


I watched other deep passes from Harnish, and he does tend to deliver the ball with a little more arc than necessary, but I think timing is the greater issue. If he can release the ball a little sooner on plays where pressure doesn’t dictate the timing, he has the potential to become an accurate vertical passer.

I should note that Harnish injured his ankle early in this contest and played with it wrapped. Although he limped off the field, he only missed a few plays and he didn’t appear hampered for the rest of the contest. This could have also been a factor with some of his down field throws in this game.

I think Harnish has a good chance to get drafted in after the fifth round. His accuracy isn’t pinpoint, but if he can get a little smoother with his drops, hitches, and delivery, he could get better. Like Kirk Cousins, Harnish has issues stepping into this throws. Unlike the Michigan State quarterback, he flashes a strong arm even without the benefit of his feet and he does flash plays where he does make the proper step through the release. If I were looking for a developmental project I’d consider him nice option.

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