Sorry for my brief hiatus y’all, I was meeting some family (and a lot of cattle) in Kansas. Now that I’m back, let’s get back to your favorite offseason series: Big Cat Country’s rookie Q&As!
As we continue to work our way backward, we’ve now made it into Round 3, which led to me speaking with Brent Taylor of Roll ‘Bama Roll, your SB Nation source for the Alabama Crimson Tide. Brent provided great insights into the Jacksonville Jaguars third-round pick safety Ronnie Harrison.
Harrison was a bit of a surprise pick for the Jaguars, as safety wasn’t a huge need and Harrison was expected to be long gone by the third round, but the value was too great to pass up for Jacksonville.
Let’s learn more about the Jaguars new enforcer in the secondary:
RO: Ronnie Harrison was projected by many as second-round draft choice, and even as a late first-rounder by some analysts. While the Jaguars didn’t specifically need to draft a safety that early, it was too hard to pass up that kind of value at the end of the third round. Why do you think Harrison slipped to Round 3 and where did you project him to go?
BT: I think that Ronnie is one of those guys that actually ended up over-projected by the media due to playing at Alabama. We’ll get more into the details later, but ultimately he too often takes bad angles and missteps in both run support and pass coverage, despite his awesome stats. I figured he would go somewhere in the 3rd-4th round, not the late 1st-2nd that some were projecting.
RO: Harrison is known as a hard-hitter/enforcer, but his cover skills may be underrated, intercepting seven passes and recording 17 pass breakups throughout his career. Can you talk about Harrison’s coverage skills and are there any other aspects of his game you think go unnoticed?
BT: His size indicates that he’d be just a box-thumping kind of safety, but that’s not really the case. At 6’3”, he’s got the long arms and rangy length that allows him to break up passes you wouldn’t think he’d be able to. He has excellent body control with the ball in the air and can wrestle a ball away from a receiver or just high-point it over him. He’s also got a knack for just being around when the ball gets tipped. It’s one of those random skills that seems like luck, but some players just have it.
RO: The Jaguars think Harrison has the versatility to play both the free and strong safety positions, and it’s possible he could be the backup to both Barry Church and Tashaun Gipson. I see him as more of a strong safety personally, but I don’t doubt he can play either position. Where do you think he fits best at as a pro?
BT: It really depends on what you want. At Alabama, Nick Saban uses the free and strong safety interchangeably as more of a left and right safety. Typically, he runs more of a Cover 6-esque scheme where one safety plays high-centerfield (traditionally the free safety in a cover 3) and the other moves up to take either the slot receiver or tight end, depending on the offensive formation (like a strong safety). However, which safety does which is usually determined by the offensive formation and not decided until mere seconds before the play starts. It’s this whole pattern-matching coverage scheme that I don’t want to bore you with droning on about for 5 paragraphs.
So, all that to say, he’s been doing both roles well for a while. He’s got the body to look more like a traditional strong safety, but I think he’s just as effective as a single-high safety as he is in the box.
RO: Harrison has great size and decent speed. He can play either safety spot as we’ve mentioned. He has great range and can make plays all over the field. He even can help in run support. Does this guy have any weaknesses or areas you believe he needs to improve in?
BT: I alluded to above that he has some issues with missteps. He’s an aggressive, hair-on-fire type of player — and while that’s often a good thing for sparking a defense to play on the attack, rather than waiting for the offense, he’s had a lot of issues with missing tackles, being run out of the play, and trying to jump routes in zone coverages that ends up with him being beat badly by a double move.
RO: Do you envision Harrison eventually becoming one of Jacksonville’s starting safeties, and if so, do you think he has the tools and intangibles to have a successful NFL career? What would you say is Harrison’s floor and what would you say is his ceiling?
BT: I don’t really know a whole lot about Church or Gipson, but I do know that Jacksonville’s defense last season really came into its own with a fiery aggression that marks a hard-hitting, ferocious defense. And in that regard, Harrison is the perfect fit. He’s got that same braggadocio and fiery temper that makes up some of the best defenses, but generally does really good containing it and channeling on the field, rather than after the play (I only remember him losing his cool once, I think against USC in the season opener of 2016 when the Trojans were jawing off for the whole first half until they got blown out).
If he manages to clean up movement on the field to not get moved out of position and gets more consistent with his angles, Harrison could definitely become a solid starting safety and a defensive tone-setter for years to come. He’ll never have the speed to be the next coming of Ed Reed or anything, but he could definitely develop to maybe a Pro-Bowl level. On the other hand, he may be yet another in the long list of safeties who never were consistent enough to really lock down anything more than a year of starting or so.
RO: If you think I left anything out, please feel free to tell the readers anything else they might want to know regarding Harrison.
BT: That really covers most of it, I think. He’s a big, rangy safety with a fiery, hard-hitting attitude and ball skills to boot. But he also struggles with consistency and over-pursuing to the point of getting beat... and doesn’t have the pure speed to make up for it. He’s been a multi-year starter for the most complex secondary in college football, even breaking into the lineup as a true freshman, so you can be assured that he understands the game and defensive schemes better than most any draft pick you could have gotten, and he has the versatility to play either safety role you need. For a third-round pick, I think that’s a pretty good value.
Check out this highlight video from Harrison’s career at Alabama, showing off his range, hard-hitting ability and coverage skills.
You can follow Brent on Twitter, as well as Roll ‘Bama Roll, for all of the updates, news and stories regarding University of Alabama sports. Now normally this probably wouldn’t fly with a Florida-based audience, but in this situation, I’ll go ahead and say Roll Tide!
All right, back to the BCC community. What are your thoughts on Harrison? Was he a steal in the third-round, or was he actually over-valued? Do you see him as a future starter for the Jaguars in the secondary? Let us know your ideas.