The Best On-Field RB Prospect No One is Talking About

Lots of noise as a freshman and sophomore, but a draft season afterthought. Find out why his on-field skill is as good as any in this draft class even if the perceived risk outstrips it. Photo by nanio.
Lots of noise as a freshman and sophomore, but a draft season afterthought. Find out why his on-field skill is as good as any in this draft class even if the perceived risk outstrips it. Photo by nanio.

It’s late and I have to write about this prospect because he’s one of the few that generated that “wow” factor for me. Understand, the “wow” factor for me has included players ranging from Matt Forte, Ray Rice, Russell Wilson, and Ahmad Bradshaw to Cedric Peerman, Nate Davis, Trent Edwards, and Bilal Powell. Even if I have defensible rationale for the last four, my inner compass may point true north but I don’t always find a way to navigate through the wilderness unscathed.

I just studied this running back for the second time in three months. He burst onto the college scene as a freshman. Then I saw highlights during his sophomore year and presumed that I would be studying a lot of him as a junior.

It never turned out that way.

He tore an ACL. Then he re-injured that knee the following year. Next thing I know he was dismissed from his team. He wound up at a different school and was granted a sixth-year of eligibility as a medical red-shirt for reasons unknown.

He’s not big. He’s not fast. Yet, he’s the most sophisticated runner between the tackles I have seen this year.

Patient, agile, and unfazed by penetration into the backfield, this running back demonstrates excellent anticipation on the type of runs that pro teams love: Power, traps, slice, wham, and zone. He catches the ball like a wide receiver. Most of all, he’s creative and is balance is fantastic.

It doesn’t hurt that this runner has 12 years of martial arts training and is a black belt in karate.

Montel Harris II by West Point Public Affairs

When I watch Temple running back Montel Harris, the former Boston College star reminds me stylistically of backs like Priest Holmes, Jerome Harrison, and Ahmad Bradshaw. I shared a game of his against Clemson with Draft Breakdown-Rotoworld-B/R analyst Eric Stoner and he was equally impressed. He commented on the strength and flexibility of his ankles, his creativity, and his versatility with scheme.

He conjured late-career Tiki Barber or a less explosive Reggie Bush.

I’m a fan of the Priest Holmes comparison – both on the basis of style and dare I say talent-potential. At a half-inch under 5’10” and 205 pounds, Harris matches the build of Holmes early in his career. I also compared Harrison stylistically to Holmes. I’d slot Harris between the two as an athlete.

I’m going to show you that if Harris is healthy and not a sinking ship character-wise, he’s the most mature, pro-ready runner in this draft. Note those two qualifiers – they are huge “ifs” and glaring reasons why he might be a UDFA by April 27.

This is a game from 2010 – pre-injury, Boston College days versus Clemson. I have seen Harris in 2012 in a game where he put 106 yards on Syracuse. He didn’t look much different from his sophomore year so I feel safe sharing his BC tape.

Footwork – Balance 

This is a 1st-and-10 with 11:52 in the first quarter from 11 personnel with receivers, 2×1 at the BC 26 (high ends at 0:29 mark).

Boston College runs a trap and Harris hesitates as he reads the penetration alters his footwork to set up the trap block and goes. This doesn’t seem like a big deal, but it’s because Harris is smooth with his execution.

Harris earns two yards untouched but has a linebacker over top and a defensive lineman converging on him in the hole. He lowers his pads, spins away from the hit and wrap to gain another three yards down field for a total of six on the play.

The replay from the end zone view illustrates his processing speed, his pad level, balance, and second effort. Look at the size differential between Harris the No.99 hitting him from the side. This is great balance. I also like the use of both hands around the ball. He routinely carries the ball under the sideline arm or protects it with both arms in traffic.

Here’s another example of footwork and balance on a similar play I showed last week with Silas Redd (finishes at 2:10 mark):

Once again, not a huge gain, but a demonstration of awareness, balance, and effort that is a consistent refrain with Harris’ performances.

Another pervading theme of Harris’ game is the ability to layer moves and use them to minimize good defensive angles. Here is a 1st-and-10 run with 11:46 in the half where Harris makes two defenders miss direct angles for positive yards. This is a 2×1 receiver, 11 personnel pistol at the Clemson 24 (ends at 3:43 mark).

Boston College runs the draw play with an opening outside left guard. Harris takes this path until he has to bounce outside the middle linebacker two yards behind the line of scrimmage, break the tackle to his legs to reach the line, and then get downhill for two more before spinning inside the safety for another two after that. This easily could have been a loss of two yards, but Harris transforms the run into a gain of four.

Receiving Talent

There are two plays from this Clemson performance that demonstrates Harris has the hands and concentration to make difficult plays for the average running back. The first isn’t even counted as a pass. This is a 3rd-and-26 lateral on a broken play where the quarterback loses a high shotgun snap, scrambles to recover, and makes an ill-advised throw across the field (play ends at 3:22 mark).

Harris was dropped for a loss, but he has to make this catch or else the throw will be ruled a fumbled lateral and the Clemson defense could win possession. Harris has to high-point the ball with his hands over his head, knowing he’s going to take a hit in the backfield from two defenders. Good job climbing the ladder, catching the ball like a wide receiver with his back to the throw and with his hands extended from his body. The fact Harris makes the play after contact is even better.

The next play is a wheel route resulting in a 36-yard touchdown (ends at 4:45 mark).

Harris makes a superb catch in stride with his hands extended away from his body and above his head. Although lacks top-flight speed  – possibly coveted speed among lead runners, which we’ll find out later today – Harris has enough quickness and second-level burst to make the end of this play a good race to the pylon. What the running back has already shown is great balance and awareness to stay in bounds in a tight spot and extend the ball to the end zone.

Making Something Out of Nothing

Harris has a knack for yardage in tight spots and is unfazed by penetration into the backfield. Backs like Holmes, Bradshaw, and Forte all had a skill for making something out of nothing. Harris shares this skill. Here’s a 1st-and-10 run with 11:46 left where he turns a no-gainer into a four-yard run.

This should have been a three-yard loss, but Harris makes it a four-yard gain by avoiding three defenders in succession just to cross the line of scrimmage. What’s deceptive about his skill on all of these plays is the economy of his style – there are no outlandish flights to the outside or lateral cuts here.

Even this minimal gain below is a good demonstration of a player with a really good inner compass to change direction multiple times and still possess the awareness of the defenders around him and the line of scrimmage.

This is a three-yard loss turned into a two-yard gain against a defensive line that included Da’Quan Bowers, Andre Branch, Jarvis Jenkins, and Brandon Thompson.

Why There’s No Buzz

The rumors surrounding Harris’ dismissal is multiple failed drug tests. Boston College has been mum on the matter and until there is definitive evidence about Harris that explains why he’s an enormous red flag for the NFL off the field, then I’m skeptical about writing off his future in the NFL before he even gets a shot.

If you ask me, there’s a lot to like about Harris.  I like the fact that he graduated from Boston College and is pursuing a graduate degree at Temple. I’m a fan of the discipline it takes to earn a black belt. I’m also bullish on the fact that Harris has dedicated almost half his life to studying karate. It doesn’t hurt that Carolina Panther linebacker Luke Kuechly has praise for Harris’ game – especially his balance.

While martial artists are also susceptible to temptations and errors of judgment just like the rest of the human race, I’m also more likely to believe that a prospect with as much training as Harris has resources to draw upon to move beyond what happened in his life at Boston College. If you recall, Vontaze Burfict was a sinking ship last year in Indianapolis – and that town is landlocked.

Keep an open mind. Talent like Harris’ compels me to do so.

Post Script: I have put out feelers about Harris and one source at the Combine told me that the conversations he had with scouts was that Harris wasn’t popular with his teammates or staff and made repeated mistakes off the field that earned him a ticket out of town. Again, take this information with some caution. Players mature and characterizations from coaches and scouts in these environs have proven inaccurate – see Terrell Davis and Arian Foster as examples. Current accounts at Temple indicate that Harris was a good teammate and citizen.

For analysis of skill players in this year’s draft class, download the 2013 Rookie Scouting Portfolio available April 1. Prepayment is available now. Better yet, if you’re a fantasy owner the 56-page Post-Draft Add-on comes with the 2013 RSP at no additional charge. Best, yet, 10 percent of every sale is donated to Darkness to Light to combat sexual abuse. You can purchase past editions of the Rookie Scouting Portfolio for just $9.95 apiece.

8 responses to “The Best On-Field RB Prospect No One is Talking About”

  1. kid’s got great balance. karate has done him good. whichever team drafts him will be very happy.

  2. Matt,
    Truly enjoy your work and respect your most trained eye. However, I fail to see Priest Holmes in Montel Harris game “tape”. Following one of your rules of scouting and evaluating talent, strip away the off-field assets that weigh in your assessment of Harris, then watch the Clemson game again. I completely agree with your theory that many of us pre-determine a “like” for a player and then seek off-beat evidence to support our projection of success at the next level. If you have the seven-plus minutes to go back and watch Montel Harris with a blank page of emotional attachment, you might come away less impressed.
    Your work is top-shelf; I anxiously look forward to all your future efforts.

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