Last week the Jets were reported to have signed former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Marcell Harris. Today we break him down in detail.
The 27-year old Harris is listed at 6’0” and 215 pounds and was a sixth round pick out of Florida in 2018. He has started 20 games in his NFL career, including a career-high seven in 2021. He has 155 tackles, five forced fumbles, one sack and one interception in his career.
Harris was a four-star recruit and headed to Florida in 2014 but didn’t make much of an impact in his first two years as he only started one game and had 29 tackles with no passes defensed, forced fumbles, sacks or interceptions.
In 2016, Harris got to start eight games and racked up 73 tackles, two interceptions and a sack. He also scored a touchdown on a fumble recovery.
He was unable to build on this as he missed the entire 2017 season with a preseason Achilles tear and then declared for the 2018 NFL draft. The 49ers drafted him in the sixth round and he had a rotational role in his rookie year.
That continued over the next three seasons, as he played between 300 and 400 snaps in each year and started a total of 20 games, including seven in 2021 after converting from safety to linebacker.
He had a career-high 44 tackles and the first sack and interception of his career last season but wasn’t re-signed by the 49ers and was picked up by the Jets in mid-April.
Now let’s take a look at what Harris brings to the table, divided into categories.
As a converted defensive back, Harris is undersized for the linebacker position, although as we know this is nothing new for Robert Saleh’s defense. His weight is listed at 215 but he may have bulked up a little from there when he switched to linebacker a year ago.
He did 16 reps in the bench press but otherwise didn’t work out at the combine or his pro day due to injury. However, his 40-yard dash time is estimated at about 4.6 and he displays good burst on film. His NFL.com scouting report describes him as having below average speed though.
Even when he was a safety during his first three seasons, Harris played more reps in the box than deep. However, he didn’t drop deep at all in 2021 after moving to linebacker and getting most of his reps in the strong side role. He obviously has experience of dropping into the slot or to the outside in coverage.
Harris was always willing to come up into the box and make plays against the run, even in college, so it seems a natural progression for him to have become a full-time linebacker after a few years with the 49ers.
He can fill gaps and stay at home to clean up on the outside, but he’s at his most impressive when he’s kept clean so he can pursue sideline to sideline.
On the whole, he hasn’t graded out well against the run other than in 2019, which was of course when the 49ers reached the Super Bowl. His lack of size can make it hard for him to get off blocks and he has a tendency at times to be over-aggressive.
Harris moves quite well in coverage but would sometimes be drawn out of position or late to react downfield, leading to some big plays.
At safety, he showed he can run with a receiver, close on the ball or jump routes and disrupt at the catch-point, but wasn’t always able to get his head turned around to locate the ball on downfield throws.
His coverage numbers at safety were poor, as he gave up six touchdowns in three seasons but, after his move to linebacker, his role changed to one where he was mostly just tasked with limiting yardage on short passes and he handled this well.
He picked off his first NFL pass by jumping a route over the middle but also only had one interception in college so he doesn’t make as many big plays in coverage as you’d want. He dropped this chance for a key pick.
He has been called for defensive holding twice and pass interference once so far in his career.
Harris has some excellent tackles on his highlight reel as he can close well and bring down his man in the open field with good technique.
However, he did also average several missed tackles in each of his NFL season and can have issues bringing down bigger opponents.
He has had five forced fumbles in his career, including this outstanding play on Lamar Jackson in the open field.
Harris hasn’t blitzed very often but his pressure rates have been okay. His only NFL sack came on a play where he was spying Justin Fields and made the tackle in the middle of the field for a one yard loss rather than a blitz.
He did make the sack coming off the edge in this preseason game, just managing to trip the quarterback before he escaped the pocket.
Harris has contributed on special teams on every unit throughout his career. He has 20 special teams tackles at the NFL level and his touchdown at Florida also came on a muffed punt.
On this play he rallied to bring down the punt returner Odell Beckham in the open field and stripped the ball loose.
He has been called for four special teams penalties in his career, three of which were committed while he was blocking.
As with every other hybrid safety the Jets have introduced to the linebacker unit, Harris’ lack of size could be an issue, but he is a big hitter and doesn’t shy from contact.
That lack of size is underlined here as he breaks up a pass with a hit on DK Metcalf, but gets the worst of it.
Harris has had one penalty called for illegal use of the hands in his career while playing on defense.
There are some good examples of Harris reading short passes and filling gaps in the running game, but he will also misread plays at times.
Route recognition was viewed as one area of weakness for Harris entering the league but he was said to have made good progress in this area with the 49ers.
Harris’ on-field discipline hasn’t been too bad, with only five defensive penalties in four seasons, but he was fined after this late hit on Mitch Trubisky, which caused a big scuffle.
Harris is a fiery competitor and displays swagger between the lines and toughness when dealing with injuries. He’s also considered a good leader.
Harris did well to overcome the Achilles tear in his final year of college but he began his rookie year on injured reserve with a hamstring issue.
He had a fractured thumb, concussion and another less serious Achilles injury in 2021, but showed toughness by only missing two games.
Harris played safety in Saleh’s system and his move to linebacker didn’t take place until after Saleh had left, but - unlike some of the other safety converts - at least he joins the Jets with a year of experience as a full-time linebacker under his belt.
In addition to all his connections to coaches on the Jets’ staff, he has played with seven current Jets while in San Francisco and was also a teammate of La’Mical Perine, Eddy Pineiro and Jabari Zuniga in college.
Harris gives the Jets a good veteran fallback to be the third linebacker into the game when the Jets line up in base packages, which - given their struggles against the run last year - might be something they would like to do more often.
He’ll have to compete for playing time with the likes of Hamsah Nasirildeen and (once he’s healthy) Jamien Sherwood, together with any rookie(s) the Jets might bring in.
In no way is Harris guaranteed a roster spot in 2022 but the Jets will hope their depth at the linebacker position will be better and Harris can be a factor in that.