A name which was unknown to the football world last season is now far more recognizable. Damon Harrison or "Big Snacks" emerged as a top NT for the New York Jets in the 2013 season. Harrison's road to the top of the NFL wasn't the usual tale. He wasn't a highly touted high school project. He wasn't a high draft pick. He didn't arrive with fanfare or cheers.
Damon Harrison's sports career started off, strangely enough, as a point guard in basketball. The man who is now an immovable force in the run stuffing game once galloped down court directing traffic as a basket shooter in gym shorts. A break that seemed quite unlucky at the time caused Harrison's destiny to change forever. During his junior season he injured his knee. The injury caused him to put on nearly 50 lbs. With his new found figure, Harrison decided to try out for his high school's football team. By the end of his senior season he was already racking up awards. He was named All-District, All-Southwest Louisiana, team captain, offensive and defensive MVP on his team, and offensive lineman of the year.
Unfortunately, he wasn't highly scouted as he played only one season. He received no scholarships and enrolled in a small community college. Harrison would later drop out in his first semester to work at Wal-mart. Thanks to an assistant coach, he was finally recruited to William Penn University, a D-2 school.
As a Statesman he was a standout. He was voted All American in the NAIA and first team all-conference in his senior season. Harrison did compete at a pro-day, when he made the trip to Iowa State where he recorded an impressive 34 reps on the bench press. He was not invited to the combine.
Harrison went undrafted, but had multiple post draft offers. He chose the New York Jets. In 2012 Harrison saw only 22 snaps. He recorded 1 tackle and 1 stop on the season with a mediocre 0.2 overall rating by PFF. That would all change in 2013.
Harrison saw 510 snaps in 2013, for 45.1% of the defensive snaps. He finished out the season rated 34.8 by PFF. He recorded only 2 games where he graded out negatively, and neither was worse than -0.9. He was ranked the 4th overall DT/NT and number 1 against the run. What is even more impressive isn't just that he is number 1 against the run, but by how much. Harrison graded out at 37.6 against the run, his next closest contender was Super Bowl champion Brandon Mebane at 22.6.
He was ranked #2 in stops and #2 in tackles behind the 3rd overall pick of the 2011 draft Marcel Dareus of the Buffalo Bills. Dareus, however, played 841 snaps, 64% more than Harrison. Harrison was also penalized only twice this season, only 1 of which was accepted. In comparison, the #1 overall DT/NT was penalized 12 times, and the #2 was penalized 9 times.
PFF produces some of the best stats in the NFL today, but at times numbers are just numbers. What do they really mean. In 2011 Sione Pouha was the best DT/NT in the NFL. We all remember his dominance and the tales of him flipping the blocking sleds over by himself. In that season, his best, he graded out at 28.6, 6.2 points below Harrison this season. Sione did it in the same way as Harrison, stopping the run. Sione graded out at 24.3 against the run. That's 13.3 points below Harrison this season. In 2011 Sione was 32. As of today, Harrison is 25 and will not be 26 until November. Where Sione had almost no tread left on his tires, Harrison still has years left on his.
With only 2 seasons under his belt there is nothing to say that Harrison will not continue to get better. Harrison is lucky enough to be bookended by talents like Mo Wilkerson and Sheldon Richardson. With their talent on the apparent upswing as well this will only lead to more opportunities for Harrison. For these reasons and more, I deem Damon "Big Snacks" Harrison as an ascending player.