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Falcons film review: S Erik Harris and his role in Dean Pees’ defense

The Falcons added former Raiders safety Erik Harris early in free agency. Can the two year starter take control of one of the two open safety spots in Dean Pees’ defense? Is he better suited for a role in the box, or in deep coverage? We dive into the film to find out.

Oakland Raiders v New York Jets

The Falcons have been busy over the first few weeks of the 2021 NFL league year. Atlanta has been clearing cap space in creative ways, including restructures and negotiating pay cuts with several players who were expected to be cut. With that newfound cap space, the team was able to sign several affordable veteran free agents to help fill out the numerous holes on the roster.

Now that we have actual free agent signings to discuss, I’ll be conducting a new video series evaluating the film of some of the most potentially impactful veteran additions. Over the past few weeks, I broke down the tape of former Panthers RB Mike Davis and former Washington CB Fabian Moreau. Today, I continue my look at defensive additions with safety Erik Harris.

Harris, a former UDFA of the Saints back in 2016, played a minor role over his first two NFL seasons before taking control of a starting job in Las Vegas from 2019-2020. At 6’2, 220, Harris certainly has ideal size for the safety position—but is he better suited for a role in the box, or playing deep coverage? I dived into the film on Harris to find his strengths, weaknesses, and fit in Dean Pees’ defense.

I promise this content actually makes sense to watch in video format—it is a live film review—and I encourage you to watch on YouTube. However, here’s a quick summary of my thoughts on Harris from the film:

S Erik Harris

Strengths

  • Very good size for the position—built like a LB and certainly looks the part of an NFL safety. Can match up against TEs
  • Smart, instinctive player who is always around the football with soft hands—solid turnover production
  • Rarely caught out of position—knows where to be and when, triggers quickly on routes and in run support
  • Versatile with experience all over the secondary. Has played single-high, split zones and Cover 2, and in the box
  • High-effort player who will run all over the field to make plays

Weaknesses

  • Solid athlete, but lacks ideal range and explosiveness
  • Angles in run support and from deep coverage are not ideal
  • Tackling and physicality are solid but nothing special—not a “thumper”
  • Not a high-impact player in deep coverage due to athletic limitations

Overall, I think Harris was played out of position by the Raiders as primarily a deep coverage, single-high safety. He can be a solid starter—or perhaps even above-average—in a more targeted role in the box and as as Cover 2 and/or split zone safety. However, his versatility to play any spot is definitely a boon to Dean Pees, who likes to incorporate interchangeable safeties and a lot of pre-snap movement. What Harris lacks in ideal athleticism he makes up for with smarts and instincts, and those limitations would be far less pronounced closer to the line of scrimmage. I’d expect him to wind up the opening day starter at strong safety.

I hope you enjoy our new free agent film review series! If you have any questions, comments, or ideas for future content, feel free to leave them below.