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How Raiders safety Erik Harris made Pro Football Focus’s Team of the Week

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NFL: Oakland Raiders at Cincinnati Bengals David Kohl-USA TODAY Sports

Erik Harris came out of the Sunday match up against the Cinncinnati Bengals as one of the few bright spots for Oakland. His performance earned him honors from Pro Football Focus who graded him as one of the best defenders in week 15 of NFL action. He made the scouting agency’s team as the Flex Defender on PFF’s list.

Pro Football Focus is a well regarded website that does independent grading for all NFL players. The stats gained from the website are used across the NFL from analytics departments to agents who point to PFF during contract negotiations. With that being said the graders aren’t privy to what the defensive call is or how a player is coached to execute their technique so while they might not be perfectly accurate, they paint a picture of objective performance, and all players across a position are graded on the same scale.

Erik Harris is listed as a flex defender which is PFF’s way of acknowledging different personnel packages used by NFL defenses be it a linebacker, corner, or safety who earns a top grade that week, the Flex Defender position on their weekly list can be slotted accordingly.

Here’s what PFF had to say about Harris’ performance on Sunday.

PFF doesn’t just grade using box score statistics and it gives a higher grade based on the quality of the play made. First let’s take another look at the interception made by Harris.

From the All-22 angle, we can see Harris cheat towards the bottom of the screen from a single high look. He is disguising his coverage responsibilities to make it look like the middle of the field will be vacated. Driskel looks at his primary target who is WR Tyler Boyd running a post and when no safety is immediately visible in that area he lets the ball rip. But Harris is playing tricks on an unexperienced QB and runs to the post. His depth makes it possible for him to track down the deep pass and play the ball in the air for an interception. This is a plus play from the safety.

Harris also showed up in man coverage. As you see here with this pass defended.

The Bengals put their tight end CJ Uzomah in the slot where he runs a slant route. Harris is patient and gets his hands on Uzomah throwing off some timing and is in a good enough position to disrupt the incoming pass. Covering TE’s has been this defense’s achilles heel, if Harris can gain consistency in this area it would be a big boon for the Raiders going forward.

He was solid as a tackler as well.

This catch to Uzomah wasn’t Harris’ coverage responsibility. The Raiders were in cover-2 and it was LB Tahir Whitehead who failed to gain enough depth on the TE running through the middle of the field. But Harris made Uzomah pay for it with a crushing blow and the TE immediately left for the rest of the series. This was Uzomah’s last target in the game and even when he did get back on the field he looked hurt and was running around in visible pain.

Here is Harris making a touchdown saving play on special teams.

What makes this play most impressive is that Harris was one of the wedge busters and engaged his blocker on the opposite side of the field between the hash and numbers. When the returner went the other way Harris showcased legitimate speed to chase him down and push him out of bounds.

These plays and a couple tackle assists against the run earned Harris a top grade this week amongst eligible defensive players per PFF. He is turning into a solid compliment to Karl Joseph despite some struggles earlier in the year. Hats off to Harris for being a bright spot on an otherwise dim day.