The midway point of the 2013 NFL season is upon us. Gang Green Nation has teamed up with Capital One Bank to present the most improved player over the first half of the season.
Nose tackle is exceptionally important for a run defense. Having a great nose tackle is no guarantee your run defense will be great. It is, however, difficult to have a top run defense if you don't have a great nose tackle. He's the guy who has to take on two blockers and prevent them from getting a push to the linebackers. The Jets have surrendered the third fewest rushing yards in the NFL and have allowed the lowest average per carry on defense.
Before this season, the pass defense was supposed to be the strength, and the run defense was supposed to be a giant question mark. It's been the other way around. The pass defense has been inconsistent, while practically nobody can run it effectively on the Jets.
Harrison's contribution doesn't always show up on the stat sheet, but he has consistently won his assignments. This has given runners nowhere to go, redirected them into teammates, and prevented other defenders from having to take on blocks. He's been arguably as good as anybody. How big of an improvement has his game made? A year ago he was an undrafted free agent from William Penn who didn't contribute.
You need to find gems like this to win in the NFL. Teams with a ton of weak spots lose. The salary cap prevents you from spending too much on veteran players who are finished with their rookie contracts. Second, third, and fourth contracts for good players are a lot more expensive than rookie deals. You also only get a limited number of early Draft picks each year. You need to find guys in the late rounds and undrafted players and develop them into cheap contributors. The rebuilding project depends on it. Because the Jets did, said rebuilding project is further along than most people expected.
Harrison took full advantage when presumed starter Kenrick Ellis got hurt in training camp. He got extended action and played well enough to earn the job. The Jets are better for it.