Top pass rusher worried production will hurt NFL draft stock

Missouri DE Charles Harris is one of the top pass rushers in college football, but he wasn't producing like one for most of this season. And as a fourth-year junior who is considering whether to apply for early entry in the 2017 NFL Draft, the lack of production bothered him.

"I'd be lying if I said I didn't," Harris last week, per the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "That's just being honest. I'm a productive man. I want sacks. I want TFLs (tackles for loss). I want things like that. But in terms of my ability, there's no lack of confidence."

Harris recorded an SEC-high 18.5 tackles for loss (including seven sacks) as a sophomore in 2015, and entering this year, a panel of College Football 24/7 analysts voted him the 25th-best player in the game. Expectations for 2016 were naturally high, including Harris' own. A couple of weeks ago, Harris had just 3.5 sacks this season.

New defensive coordinator DeMontie Cross installed a scheme this year that required Harris to play more of a gap-control style. It didn't suit him, and he acknowledged some frustration with it early in the season. Head coach Barry Odom reverted back to last year's scheme three weeks ago, however, and Harris has notched 4.5 sacks over his last two games against South Carolina and Vanderbilt. He now has eight on the year among 11 tackles for loss.

How will scouts view his numbers?

"Production for some teams, they want to see it. It's not the end of the world, because teams can still see the effort," said NFL.com draft analyst Lance Zierlein. "And a lot will depend on whether he's seen a lot of (opposing) game plans with a lot of quick passes that get the ball out before the front can make a play."

"(Harris') strength is his first step, his get-off. He's not a read-and-react player, so a scheme change could definitely affect his productivity."

Jadeveon Clowney's production sagged in his final college season, but he was still the No. 1 pick of the 2014 NFL Draft. Joey Bosa's sack total declined from previous seasons in his final year at Ohio State as well, but he was a top-five pick in the spring. Zierlein, however, doesn't put Harris in quite the same category.

"Go back and look at Clowney the year before, Bosa the year before, and they had huge production," Zierlein said. "And those were freakish athletes coming out of college with all the traits. Harris has had seven sacks last year. I like him quite a bit as a player, but I wouldn't put him in the same group with those guys."

Harris said he'll be discussing his decision on whether to apply for early eligibility into the 2017 draft or return to Mizzou with Odom in the coming weeks.

If his newfound production continues, perhaps making a decision will be easier.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread*.

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