Last April, when former Kansas University defensive back Chris Harris tuned in to watch the final few rounds of the 2011 NFL Draft, he didn’t really expect to hear his name called.
But that turned out to be a good thing for Harris, whose agent then was able to shop around and find the best fit for the Bixby, Okla., native. With Denver showing interest throughout the spring and welcoming in a new head coach who placed emphasis on defense and versatility, the Broncos seemed to be Harris’ best option. Once the lockout ended, Harris signed a free-agent deal and went to work.
Nobody knew then that the 5-foot-10, 190-pound cornerback would go on to become a starter on defense and lead the team in tackles in back-to-back weeks during his rookie season.
Sunday, in his second straight start at nickel back for the Broncos, Harris finished with a team-best 11 tackles and also snagged a crucial interception that helped propel the Broncos to a 38-24 upset of the Oakland Raiders. The week before, in a blowout loss to Detroit, Harris finished with a team-high nine tackles.
“It felt good, definitely,” Harris told denverbroncos.com after Sunday’s game. “I’ve been working so hard in practice and getting interceptions in practice, and I’m just glad that one finally came my way.”
Fellow rookie Von Miller, the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft out of Texas A&M, acknowledged the effort of his Big 12 teammate after the game.
“Chris Harris really had a big play today,” Miller said. “He’s been ballin’ in practice all week, ballin’ in games, and it was just good to see him get a pick today, too.”
Although Saturdays have not gone well for Harris’ former KU teammates, many have taken joy from his performance on Sundays. Few, if any, have been surprised by what they’ve seen.
“I’m not,” KU senior Isiah Barfield said. “The kid works hard. I’ve known him for five years, and he’s probably one of the hardest workers I know. I knew he was gonna do it eventually, I just didn’t know it was gonna be this soon. He did an amazing job.”
Added KU coach Turner Gill: “It definitely surprises me, as far as him being the leading tackler and doing all those things. But I knew he would have an opportunity to be able to play at the next level, and I’m glad to see it. He is a very, very football-smart guy, a physical player who has some good skills, and he’s making the best of his opportunity. It’s good representation for the University of Kansas.”
Harris, a four-year starter at KU and member of the Jayhawks’ 2008 Orange Bowl team, has played in all eight of Denver’s games this season. He ranks fifth on the team with 30 tackles, third in pass break-ups, with three, and is one of two former Jayhawks currently starting in the NFL. Tampa Bay cornerback Aqib Talib is the other.
A couple of other Jayhawks in the NFL also had big days Sunday. San Diego safety Darrell Stuckey recorded a special-teams tackle and recovered an onside kick for the Chargers, and Tampa Bay wide receiver Dezmon Briscoe hauled in a career-best 46-yard reception in the Bucs’ loss at New Orleans.
Harris and the Broncos (3-5) travel to Kansas City, Mo., Sunday to take on the Chiefs (4-4) at Arrowhead Stadium.