The New England Patriots took a running back in the third round, at pick No. 87 overall, over the weekend.
But it was more so about the player than it was the position when it came to Damien Harris.
Harris stands in as one of only eight in Alabama Crimson Tide history to have crossed into the 3,000-yard rushing tier. He is the only one who averaged 6.4 yards per carry – a program record among backs who handled a minimum of 400 carries. And he is one whose Tuscaloosa stay under Bill Belichick confidant Nick Saban spanned 56 games and two national championship victories.
“He falls into the ‘good football player’ category that’s been consistently productive over the course of however many years,” Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio said of Harris in his press conference Friday. “Look, everybody knows what we think about the Alabama program, how highly regarded it is and the mutual respect that Bill and Nick have for one another. But this is a player who, over the course of the last three years, basically has averaged 1,000 yards in the SEC – and they have a lot of good backs.”
The same could be said of the Patriots.
New England invested No. 31 overall in Georgia’s Sony Michel a year ago, and the Georgia Bulldog would go on to set the NFL rookie playoff record with six rushing touchdowns after already becoming the most productive greenhorn Patriots back since Belichick’s arrival. Behind him sits Super Bowl receptions record-setter James White, along with Rex Burkhead and the recently re-signed Brandon Bolden.
But the idea that the Patriots could reserve five roster spots for the rushing stable isn’t unrealistic.
The 5-foot-10, 216-pound Harris wouldn’t have been just the sixth running back drafted this spring if it were.
“This guy has been a pretty consistently productive player,” added Caserio. “So this more, I would say, falls into the ‘good football player’ category relative to the other options that we were looking at on the board. That’s where he kind of fell.”
Only Alabama teammate Josh Jacobs, Penn State’s Miles Sanders, Memphis’ Darrell Henderson, Iowa State’s David Montgomery and Florida Atlantic’s Devin Singletary went before Harris at the position.
It is a position the Patriots got into by packaging No. 73 and No. 205 overall to the Chicago Bears in return for No. 87, No. 162 and a fourth-rounder in 2020.
“It was a dream come true,” Harris, a second-team All-SEC selection as a senior this past season, told reporters on his post-draft conference call. “I’ve been waiting on this moment for I don’t even know how long, since I first picked up a football, and just to be in this moment, be with my family, my friends, everyone that’s supported me is unbelievable – an unbelievable experience.”
Harris, 22, fits the Patriots’ mold athletically, having posted a 40-yard dash of 4.57 seconds, a vertical of 37 inches and a broad jump of 121 inches at the NFL Scouting Combine in February. He’ll now look to fit in as the 10th true halfback Belichick’s war room has chosen over the last 20 drafts.
“I think I’m just a dependable player, somebody that whenever you ask me to do something, I’ll do it,” said Harris. “I think I just show a lot of great attributes on the field, things that help me be a great running back and they can help the team be successful. There’s a lot of things that I can do well, there’s a lot of things I can still improve on, so I’m just ready to come in and be my best me and get to work Day 1.”
Harris racked up 3,070 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns over 477 career carries at Alabama, tacking on 407 receiving yards and an additional two touchdowns on 52 catches.
That suits the category.
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