Linebacker Is As Elite As They Come, Public Praise Has No Choice But To Follow

By Jeff Capellini, CBSNewYork/

NEW YORK (WFAN) — If there is one player who seems to fly in the face of the Jets’ public persona, it’s linebacker David Harris. He’s the one guy on this team of motormouths and mercenaries who speaks quietly and carries a big stick.

He’s the exception to the Jets’ lone rule that states in no uncertain terms they are great and will prove it. While the vast majority of their players march around with the biggest of chips on their shoulders and promise to smack everyone upside the head, Harris does it without saying much of anything.

It’s on one hand refreshing and on the other a little bit terrifying, because there is just no limit on what Harris can be this season.

The last time No. 52 saw meaningful preseason action was against the Giants on Aug. 29. And if you didn’t walk away from the first half of that 17-3 Jets win thinking Harris was by far the best player on the field — and possibly the best player other than Darrelle Revis in all of New York football — you were either not paying attention or just got too caught up in this ridiculous notion that a player has to tell you he’s going to knock your block off before he actually does.

Harris was a silent assassin of sorts before the Jets gave him a new four-year, $36 million contract, with a little more than $29 million guaranteed, back at the beginning of August. Yet despite being an absolutely menacing and imposing figure on the field, Harris somehow gets lost in the shuffle when the subject of the best linebackers in the sport becomes a topic of discussion on the airwaves and in print. I’m not saying Harris isn’t respected league-wide. He most certainly is. But because he mostly goes about his business without having to tell anyone just how good he is or his team will be, people tend to forget a little about him. It seems the old adage that a man’s play on the field is all that really matters has been lost on today’s professional athlete to a degree.

Harris, however, seems to be bringing the strong silent type back to the big screen. There’s little doubt that on a team with a take-no-prisoners mentality, when he’s doing what he does best he may very well be the single player most in tune with what “play like a Jet” is truly supposed to represent.

In that game against the Giants, Harris had seven tackles, including four solo, in roughly a half. He set up a Jim Leonhard interception by scaring the daylights out of Eli Manning and also picked off Manning himself. During one series he knocked several Giants senseless with a series of big hits that made sparsely filled MetLife Stadium sound like it was housing a regular season game.

As I said before, there’s really no ceiling on how high Harris can rise this season. We’re talking about a mid-second round pick back in 2007 that, upon further review, may very well be one of if not the best defensive players to come out of that entire draft. Consider General Manager Mike Tannenbaum’s selection of Harris a masterstroke of genius for the former star out of Michigan is now a player that at least rivals Clay Matthews, Ray Lewis, DeMarcus Ware, Patrick Willis and Brian Urlacher, a group of linebackers largely considered the best in the business, in both ability and impact.

Seriously, would you rather have Harris or LaMarr Woodley? What about Harris or Tamba Hali? Is Jon Beason that much better than Harris? For that matter is Jerod Mayo?

It’s hard to argue Harris isn’t every bit as good as any of those players. He just doesn’t get the attention they receive because they are the unquestioned leaders of their respective defenses and get the face time and media love that goes with the territory, while Harris plays alongside a commanding presence in Bart Scott and is often minimized a bit in stature due to the utter brilliance that is Revis.

Again, you don’t really know Harris is there until bodies start flying and trainers start sprinting onto the field. Then, all bets are off and you have no choice but to scratch your head and realize just how lucky the Jets are to have him.

This is a linebacker with 428 tackles in four full NFL seasons, including 126 as a rookie and 127 two seasons ago. Technique-wise, he’s about as good as it gets. He grabs hold of someone and they are going down. It’s really that simple. While the Jets are seriously lacking in the one-on-one pass rushing department, they succeed through strength in numbers. Harris’ athleticism and intelligence within the many Rex Ryan schemes makes him a triple threat — a beast against the run, a more than representative option covering running backs out of the backfield and tight ends on short to moderate routes and as a pass rusher on the blitz from just about any spot on his side of the line of scrimmage.

There’s no question Revis is still the Jets’ most indispensable defensive player. If he was to go down with an injury so much of what Ryan tries to employ would vanish because No. 1 receivers would be free to roam. And with cornerback Antonio Cromartie’s feast or famine approach, even if he was shifted to the top threat the trickle down effect to the second and slot receivers would be too much for the Jets to handle because of the significant drop-off in the team’s secondary depth.

It’s the same deal at linebacker. While Scott still has plenty left in the tank, he is now 31. The Jets have the more than capable and often impactful Bryan Thomas on the outside, but he does his best work disrupting things at the line of scrimmage. Losing Harris would be devastating as the Jets would be forced to shift Scott or rely on neophytes Josh Mauga and Nick Bellore, players who had excellent preseasons but at the end of the day have just a combined eight games of NFL experience.

It’s my belief that Harris will be considered elite by all of the NFL insiders and experts by season’s end. He’s currently on pace to become the best player to ever play the position in franchise history. Now it is true the Jets haven’t exactly lit the NFL on fire over the decades at the linebacker position, but Harris has been in the middle and has been the driving force during what has arguably been the greatest era of Jets football, albeit the fact that the Jets, themselves, have only been considered an elite franchise for the last few seasons.

Maybe it will take a championship to justify Harris’ greatness. It certainly worked wonders for a guy like Matthews, who became the poster boy for all that was right about the Packers’ defense during their run to glory last season. Maybe Harris just needs to get his hands on the Lombardi Trophy once to be mentioned in the same breath as the Ravens’ Lewis. Or perhaps Harris will be thought of along the same lines as a Woodley when he plays an integral role in a championship defense filled with many exceptional parts, as the Steelers have done and the Jets are seemingly on the cusp of doing.

Regardless of how it all shakes out, the Jets are not winning a title without Harris and Harris likely is not going to become a household name any time soon without the Jets.

And as those of us mere mortals know, talk is cheap. Harris, to his credit, seems to have gotten the memo.

Read more columns by Jeff Capellini

Where do you rank Harris among the best linebackers in the NFL? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

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