DAVIE — Charles Harris has made one memorable play in the first nine games of his Miami Dolphins career.
Harris sacked Matt Cassel to seal a defeat of Tennessee six weeks ago. It is his only sack.
The Dolphins selected Harris with the 22nd pick in the NFL Draft in April and so his statistics — 1 sack, 9 tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 6 quarterback hits — are a bit underwhelming.
But the Dolphins aren’t overly concerned. And frankly, some research into his defensive line rookie peers as well as what other fine pass rushers did in their rookie seasons should alleviate some concerns.
“He’s doing a lot of things good and anytime he’s ever had any kinds of struggles, it’s things that he’s never seen before,” Dolphins coach Adam Gase said this week. “In this league, every week, you get the full gamut of plays. Coaches have a lot of time to put things together and try to take advantage of certain defenses and certain ways guys play. It’s just always going to be a learning experience for him.”
The Cleveland Browns took Myles Garrett with the first pick in this year’s draft, and he is a different beast. Garrett has been injured, but also recorded four sacks in his first NFL game and may be a future All-Pro.
But an examination of all the other first-round defensive ends selected this year reveal that none of them have dominated:
• 3rd pick, Solomon Thomas (86th edge): 8 games, 2 sacks, 22 tackles
• 14th pick, Derek Barnett (48th edge): 9 games, 2.5 sacks, 13 tackles
• 17th pick, Jonathan Allen (38th inside): 5 games, 1 sack, 3 tackles
• 22nd pick, Charles Harris (62nd edge): 9 games, 1 sack, 8 tackles
• 26th pick, Takk McKinley (36th edge): 9 games, 2 sacks, 9 tackles
• 28th pick, Taco Charlton (91st edge): 9 games, 1 sack, 5 tackles
Note: All position rankings provided by Pro Football Focus. Garrett actually doesn’t have enough snaps to be ranked.
Gase notes that veteran defensive ends have a huge advantage because they can play fast. That’s been the greatest challenge for Harris, who declined to comment for this story on Friday.
“That’s why some of the veteran players if you watch William Hayes, he does a great job,” Gase said. “He’s seen so much and he knows how to play so many different things, it’s a little easier for him because it’s more of a reaction than thinking about, ‘This is coming so I’ve got to play it like this.’ That’s time. You try to get the process going as fast as possible and get him caught up as much as you can; but at the end of the day, he’s got to see it and react to it. The guys that are good players usually react a little quicker than others.”
Without looking up the numbers, it’s hard to believe the incredible jump many edge rushers made from their rookie season to their second season and so on.
Last season, Vic Beasley had 15.5 sacks. In the previous year, as a rookie, he had 4. Danielle Hunter made the jump from 6.0 to 12.5 last season. Khalil Mack made a leap from 4.0 to 15.0.
These are statistics that surely some of Miami’s coaches or veteran defensive linemen have mentioned to Harris.
Robert Quinn once leaped from 5.0 to 10.5 to 19.5 sacks.
It takes time for many of the NFL’s best pass rushers to develop and grow.
Justin Houston once jumped from 5.5 to 10.0 to 11.0 to 22.0 sacks.
Harris should not panic. Dolphins fans should not panic or declare Harris a bust yet.
J.J. Watt had 5.5 sacks as a rookie; then 20.5 as a sophomore. Two of Harris’ mentors are former Dolphins great and Hall of Famer Jason Taylor, and current Dolphins rush end Cameron Wake.
Taylor had 5.0 sacks as a rookie, followed by 9.0, 2.5 and then — boom! — 14.5 and Taylor’s career took off.
Wake had a career-low 5.5 sacks as a rookie and then — boom! — 14.0 and Wake’s career took off.
Harris hasn’t boomed yet, but it’s way too early to say he won’t.