The Miami Dolphins could have gone several directions in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft to fill a current position of need. However, the team selected defensive end Charles Harris out of Missouri, which indeed addressed a position of need, while also – and hopefully – securing an edge-rush specialist for the long-term future of the team.
While depth at defensive end was still likely needed despite the signing of William Hayes in free agency – who will likely see plenty of action on first and second downs – the selection of Harris likely makes the position of defensive end the strength of the defense with Andre Branch and Cameron Wake joining Hayes and Harris in the rotation.
Barring injury or a giant surprise from training camp, Wake will start at left defensive end while Branch starts at right defensive end in Miami’s base 4-3 scheme. Throughout the game, Hayes will spell Wake on more obvious run downs before Wake returns to the field and is joined by Harris on more obvious third down passing situations.
It’s also likely, in certain third-down situations, that the defense will feature three defensive ends – Wake, Harris and Branch – to play alongside Ndamukong Suh in attempt to get the most effective pass rushers on the field at the same time.
Why Harris may succeed his rookie season
As previously mentioned, the current depth at defensive end should allow Harris to play to his current strength, which is as a natural pass rusher.
The early worry surrounding Harris is whether he currently has the necessary size and ability to set the edge against the run, but with the luxury of Hayes and Branch manning the position on likely run downs, Harris will be given opportunities to succeed in situations where he can focus on getting to the opposing team’s quarterback rather than having to also defend against the run.
Harris also has the opportunity to learn the nuances of the position from one of the best pass rushers in franchise history in Wake.
While this theory didn’t play out the way the front office and coaching staff would have liked it to with former first-round selection Dion Jordan, Harris is already seen as more of a natural pass rusher than Jordan who was likely more suited as an outside linebacker in Miami’s defense.
Why Harris may struggle his rookie season
The position of defense end is relied upon to set the edge against the run, apply pressure to opposing team’s quarterbacks to disrupt the play and force mistakes, and finally, turn that quarterback pressure into sacks to help kill drives and give the ball back to the offense.
Unfortunately, rookie pass rushers rarely post eye-popping sack numbers, which gives the impression the player had a bad season – and in Harris’ case – makes it look like he didn’t live up to his first-round selection.
In 2016, Chargers edge rusher Joey Bosa burst onto the scene with nine and a half sacks while Yannick Ngakoue of the Jaguars finished with eight and Leonard Floyd of the Bears tallied seven. No other rookie last season reached the seven-sack mark.
Going back to 2015, Preston Smith of the Redskins notched eight sacks while no other rookie recorded more than six. In 2014, Aaron Donald – a defensive tackle – recorded nine sacks while Jacquies Smith – an undrafted free agent – was second of all rookie pass rushers with six and a half sacks.
With first-year edge rushers typically struggling to record top-tier sack totals – unlike what you more often see from other positions in regards to posting impressive stats in yardage/touchdowns, expectations must be made with how defensive ends are judged year one.
Odds of making final roster
Harris is a lock to make the final roster and should make meaningful contributions as a rookie. While Harris may get a slight knock for not being an official starter as a first-round selection on a team that had several needs on draft day, it’s just a matter of time before Harris is in the starting lineup, justifying his 22nd-overall draft selection.