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Chris Harris Jr. = true shutdown corner? 'Oh yeah -- definitely'

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In the wide world of football analysis, players constantly get judged on performance and reputation. Oftentimes, though, the players themselves are missing from the evaluation process. Thus, we created "The Rebuttal." In this series, former NFL player and scout Bucky Brooks summarizes the book on a particular player, then fields reaction straight from the man himself. Today's subject: Denver Broncos cornerback Chris Harris Jr.

The Scouting Report

Chris Harris Jr. has quietly emerged as one of the top cover corners in the NFL after entering the league as an undrafted free-agent signee out of Kansas in 2011. Despite sharing CB1 duties with Aqib Talib in Denver, Harris is the Broncos' most important defender in the secondary, due to his versatility and high football IQ. He has played every position in the back end (LCB, RCB, nickel and free safety), but is at his best suffocating receivers in the slot. Harris has the quickness, athleticism and explosiveness to shadow receivers at the line in press coverage, but also displays the footwork, awareness and instincts to blanket shifty wideouts utilizing a traditional backpedal in "off" coverage. Harris' combination of savvy and sound technique helped him enjoy a 35-game streak without surrendering a touchdown. He has ranked among the league leaders in passer rating allowed in each of the past two seasons. Not to mention, he has recorded 12 interceptions and 55 passes defensed in his five-year career.

On the surface, all of that would suggest Harris is a "shutdown corner" in today's game. But I believe he is a rock-solid CB1 -- someone who ranks a notch below the household names (Richard Sherman, Patrick Peterson, Talib and 2015 rookie sensation Marcus Peters) at the position, primarily due to his size (5-foot-10, 199 pounds) and accompanying questions about his ability to cover big-bodied WR1s. With so many big receivers dominating the league -- guys like Julio Jones, Dez Bryant, Brandon Marshall, A.J. Green, DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson -- I would prefer my ideal CB1 to be able to match up with those guys on the perimeter.

The Rebuttal

What is your definition of a shutdown corner?

Chris Harris: Guy who's not giving up touchdowns. I think in this league, those "tubs" [touchdowns] are the games that you win or lose. And if you ain't giving up touchdowns, you're doing whatever you can for your team to win that game. Also, in those big, key third downs -- those big, key plays -- you gotta come up and make those plays. And I think the shutdown corners are making those plays most of the time.

Does the system factor into someone being labeled a shutdown corner?

CH: Definitely. I mean, you got the zone corners, you got the man corners. I've talked to DT [Demaryius Thomas], I've talked to guys on our team that say, "This man follows me the whole game and plays zone. But I can't consider them a shutdown corner." So coming from the receivers, they don't consider you a shutdown corner unless you're playing man. So that's mostly, just hearing from the peers, that's where they get their definition from.

So, let's get down to it: Do you fancy yourself a shutdown corner?

CH: Oh yeah -- definitely. I would say that. Because giving up less touchdowns than probably anybody since I've been in the league the past five years, being able to follow receivers, play scheme and play slot. Pretty much being able to do whatever the coach wants you to do. I think if you have a guy like that, he's definitely a shutdown.

Now, the counter to your argument would be that you play on a team that has another talented corner in Aqib Talib. You could say that both of you guys are No. 1 corners. How do you make the determination on which guy is the shutdown corner? Who goes to the No. 1 receiver on the opponent? How does that play out?

CH: Well, for our team, we're very different than a lot of other teams, because they don't have two elite corners like us -- really, three [including Bradley Roby]. So we could switch it off. If it's a super-huge receiver, we could put Talib on him one game. If it's a silky-fast receiver, a take-the-top-off guy, then you could put me on him. Coach Wade [Phillips] has the versatility to do whatever he wants and match us up skill-wise on whoever we want to go to. But if we were on other teams, say if I go play for the -- just name a team -- Jags or something like that, it'd be easy [to be the] No. 1 corner.

So when you walked in, I was looking at the tape. A lot of times, corners are judged off of marquee matchups. You have a ton of résumé tape. But last year, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Antonio Brown had a huge game [16 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns] and you were covering him. When people look at the stats, they might say this tarnishes your reputation as a shutdown corner. What is your rebuttal to that?

CH: Well, it's all 16 games. I mean, up to that game, I didn't give up a touchdown for the past two seasons. We're going against top receivers. But you're gonna have a bad game, and that was one of my bad games of my career. Out of really a lot of games that I've played in this career, I can probably count three bad games that I've had. And that was probably one. I know it was a marquee matchup, and you want to win those matchups. He won that day. But if you look at a lot of lists, I won a lot of matchups, too. I've played AB more than one time. That's the main one everybody goes back to. [Laughs.] I mean, it's something that gave me a lot of motivation coming back this season.

Let's go back and talk about the difference between a man corner and the zone corner, because I think there are a lot of football fans who don't entirely understand the difference. Is it easier to be a zone corner or a man corner?

CH: Zone. Because the routes that you have to cover are limited. Say you're in Cover 2, then you're just jamming and you're sinking under the corner routes. So you're playing those two routes. Playing Cover 3, you're just playing your deep third, or you're playing the "bang" [skinny post] routes. So you really get limited routes that you have to cover, so it makes it easier for you. But if you're playing man, playing man in the slot, playing man outside, you got tons of routes that you gotta cover. And that's what makes it harder to be a man corner.

Typically, zone corners get more interceptions, so when people aren't studying tape, they tend to overcredit guys with a lot of picks. What's the challenge in trying to get the football when you're playing man-to-man?

CH: That's the biggest challenge right there. I haven't been in a zone-concept defense, so I don't even know how that feels, to be able to look and just break on the ball like that. But it's definitely harder, man, because, like I said, you don't have your eyes on the quarterback, you have your eye on your man, and you have to react and try to go pick it and go get it. Most of the time, when you can look, that vision, I mean, that helps you out, too. That's why those guys ... Asante Samuel, I mean, he's a perfect guy that you can name that had all vision on the quarterback, could break on everything, and that's why he always had a high pick number, man. I would love to be in a zone concept every once in a while. Probably later on in my career.

My Final Take

Harris is a feisty competitor with robust football knowledge. He breaks down the game as well as any defensive back that I've encountered over the years, and I can see why he is so successful on the island. Although some of our conversation didn't make it into this piece, I can tell you that he has a keen understanding of the position and how offenses look to attack him on the perimeter.

As far as his analysis on the "shutdown corner," I completely agree with him on how a premier CB must make plays in critical moments to be considered a special guy. In addition, he must be able to do it without assistance from a safety or underneath "cutter" (linebacker) on most downs. Thus, I understand why he would view himself as a "shutdown" guy, considering the amount of man coverage featured in the Broncos' scheme and how he aligns all over the place to match up with shifty receivers.

I still have a hard time placing him above some of the premier "big" cover corners, but I walked away from the conversation thinking he certainly has the "it" factor (intelligence, confidence, technical awareness and grit) needed to be a shutdown corner in today's game. I hope he gets more opportunities against bigger receivers -- how he fares in those situations could cement his status in league circles as either a universally acknowledged shutdown corner or a rock-solid CB1.

Follow Bucky Brooks on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.

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