If there is an underrated player in the 2020 NFL free agent class, color thy name as Anthony Harris. (And Matt Judon. I don’t think that the Las Vegas Raiders need to focus on the probably-tagged Judon, but boy do I like Matthew Judon. In an article about Anthony Harris, I’ve already said Judon three times.)
The Minnesota Vikings safety was tied for the NFL lead in interceptions with Stephon Gilmore (All-Pro, Defensive Player of the Year) and Tre’Davious White (All-Pro), but Harris didn’t even get a Pro Bowl nod. On the surface, we can easily trace this back to the fact that White is a former first round pick, Gilmore a star on the Patriots, and Harris was a backup who eventually worked his way into being a replacement for Andrew Sendejo. However, almost all of Harris’s interceptions qualify as “more impressive” than those two, based on quality of opponent.
Last season, Harris picked off Matt Ryan twice in Week 1, then got interceptions later on off of Dwayne Haskins, then Russell Wilson, then Philip Rivers, then Aaron Rodgers. In Minnesota’s wild card win over the New Orleans Saints, he got a seventh interception on the year, this time off of Drew Brees. Outside of Haskins, that’s the most impressive list of “marks” that any secondary player could have had last year.
Gilmore and White both play in the AFC East, where quarterbacks go to create Defensive Player of the Year candidates.
Gilmore intercepted Ryan Fitzpatrick, Daniel Jones, Sam Darnold, Dak Prescott, and Andy Dalton twice. White intercepted Andy Dalton twice (thanks Andy Dalton), Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Allen, and Devlin Hodges twice.
Out of 12 combined interceptions made by Gilmore and White, only one came off of a quarterback who can we all agree was a good player in 2020. (Or most any year thus far.) Out of seven picks by Harris alone, his only “unimpressive” one came off of Haskins. Is this the case of a player just being in the right place at the right time?
GREAT! I love players who are in the right place at the right time! Especially against the most dangerous players in the game of football: good quarterbacks.
The reason that I highlight Harris for the Raiders is not so much as a need. They have Johnathan Abram returning from injury and could potentially move Lamarcus Joyner back to safety after he struggled in the slot last year. Erik Harris is also under contract for another year after being the only player on the defense to record more than one interception.
And therein lies the “need.”
A safety may not be a priority for Vegas, especially one who may cost as much or more than Joyner, but Mike Mayock also can’t overlook the need to simply add good players to a defense that ranked 30th against the pass by DVOA and ranked 29th in interceptions. The Raiders totaled nine interceptions last season, which is the same number of interceptions that Harris has had dating back to Week 6 of 2018, just before he came Minnesota’s starter next to Harrison Smith.
The Vikings have pretty much already said that they won’t be prioritizing Harris and he will almost certainly be signing elsewhere. It may keep Joyner in the slot, but maybe having a great coverage safety behind him will increase the quality of his play and the value of his contract. Given that even Abram is only 48 snaps into his NFL career, it is not as though depth and insurance would be a bad thing. During his entire coaching career, Jon Gruden has never had success like he had when the Tampa Bay Buccaneers led the league with 31 interceptions in 2002.
It’s not a statistic that is often repeatable and it can even disguise a player who is poor in coverage. During his 1.5 seasons as a starter, I do not see evidence that Harris is poor in coverage. He may end up being the product of an excellent group of players around him, but in terms of available options and overlooked free agents who could immediately upgrade a team’s pass defense, my pick is quite obvious: