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Why Jacob Harris might not play many snaps for the Rams this year

At least, not on offense and definitely not as a tight end

NFL: Los Angeles Rams Minicamp Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

I like Jacob Harris a lot. Let me first tell you why and it’s all as clear as day in the tape of his pro day 40-yard dash.

By now you probably know the tale of the tape for the Rams fourth round pick out of UCF: Harris is an athlete of his own category, measuring in at 6’5, 219 lbs, and single-handedly bringing down the average speed of a tight end by blazing a 4.39 40-yard dash at his pro day. There were seven other prospects who posted a 4.39 at their pro day this year, and five of them ended up as first round picks.

Only 15 prospects posted official times faster than 4.39 in 2021, and the only other player who was taller than 6’1 was Penn State edge rusher Odafe Oweh, a first round pick of the Baltimore Ravens.

The other prospect in that same area of size and athleticism was Penn State linebacker Micah Persons, who is 6’3, 246 lbs, ran a 4.39, and was the 12th overall pick.

The Rams were able to pick Harris in the fourth round, long after most players of his physical caliber, mainly because of how raw he is (Harris didn’t start playing football until his senior year of high school, and he only has two seasons of real college experience), but Harris has other unique attributes that make him even more unprecedented than the two Nittany Lions prospects.

In addition to his straight line speed, Harris posted a 40.5” vertical (one of 21 players who went 40” or above), a 133” broad jump (tied for ninth-best), and a 6.54 three-cone drill, which was faster than any other 2021 NFL Draft prospect. But nobody in the top 35 of three-cone time was even a first round pick, so let’s focus on what everybody claims to love the most: The 40.

In watching the raw footage of UCF’s 40-yard dash runs, I was instantly enamored with Harris as a physical anomaly. And he even appears to show off how much different he is than other 6’5 humans by jumping a good two or three feet in the air during his warmup, even if it is an unintentional brag and merely a way for him to loosen up prior to his takeoff.

This is the first of two runs:

This is the second:

It is during one of those two runs that Harris posts a faster 40-yard dash than:

  • Rams fourth round pick Robert Rochell, a 193 lb cornerback
  • George cornerback Tyson Campbell, the 33rd overall pick and a 193 lb prospect
  • Patrick Surtain, Jr., the ninth overall pick, and a 208 lb cornerback
  • Kyle Pitts, the most highly-touted tight end prospect in recent history
  • Travis Etienne, Justin Fields, and Terrace Marshall
  • And faster than Tutu Atwell, LA’s 5’8, 155 lb second round receiver

Partly for these reasons, I do love Jacob Harris as an NFL prospect. My excitement is at least doubled by the fact that Harris has been noted as a standout at Rams practices already, which is not hard to believe given some of the highlight grabs that he made during the last two years at UCF:

And to finish off everything that is good about Jacob Harris, I’ll add in that in my personal opinion, “Is inexperienced” is one of my absolute FAVORITE red flags. Every prospect has them, so I think every prospect evaluator and fan should also have the flags they accept and the ones that give them the most pause. Injuries and character concerns are the ones that scare me off the most. Inexperience, size, and athleticism, the ones that I care about the least.

But size and athleticism are literally unteachable. Inexperience — the literal opposite. With more time, Harris could develop into the type of player you aren’t supposed to typically find on day three. Even better, these bargain finds often seem to happen with tight ends, perhaps because of how much harder it seems to be to transition to that position in the NFL than it is with most others.

George Kittle was a fifth round pick.

Travis Kelce was a third round pick.

Jimmy Graham was a third round pick.

Antonio Gates was undrafted.

Darren Waller was a sixth round pick.

Mark Andrews was a third round pick.

Jason Witten was a third round pick.

Now, there are many more examples of tight ends who were drafted after the second round who did not turn into stars, starters, or even stopgaps. Going back to Kittle’s draft class in 2017, we see that Michael Roberts, Jake Butt, Jordan Leggett, Jeremy Sprinkle, Eric Saubert, Bucky Hodges, and Mason Schreck were the other tight ends drafted on day three. I seem to remember that Butt, Leggett, and Sprinkle were three players who many analysts felt had higher ceilings and brighter futures than Kittle.

And tight end evaluation can be so difficult that even in a year with five tight ends in the top 50 (O.J. Howard, Evan Engram, David Njoku, Gerald Everett, Adam Shaheen), it didn’t take long for Kittle to emerge as the elite option.

Whether or not Harris becomes Kittle or Sprinkle is entirely a guessing game and I do not believe we’ll get much of an answer to that question this year. Because Jacob Harris is not just raw as a tight end.

He’s barely even a tight end seed at this point.

I watched another tape of Harris, except this one was evaluating UCF’s offensive line performance in a 2020 game against Houston. You can see snap after snap from Harris in this game but do yourself a favor and don’t look anywhere near the offensive line to find “#87” because he doesn’t line up at tight end once. This isn’t surprising though because Harris wasn’t a tight end at UCF.

He was a wide receiver.

For the 219 lb Harris to become a tight end in the NFL, he is going to probably need multiple years of development and weight training. The issue for the Rams, which is similar to the issue facing Pitts and the Atlanta Falcons, is how much you balance getting him involved early with getting him reps as a blocking tight end. In a perfect world, all of this can happen simultaneously, but little of our history suggests that this place is flawless.

When you break down all the possible avenues towards Harris playing significant snaps as a rookie, I think you’ll be left with too many roadblocks to actually expect it:

  • How can Jacob Harris learn to play tight end in a single offseason?
  • How can Jacob Harris become the lightest tight end in the entire NFL?
  • How much more football (in general) does Jacob Harris need to learn now that he’s gone from being a soccer prospect when he was a senior in high school, to being a professional football player only a few years later?
  • How does Jacob Harris go from playing all those snaps as an outside receiver in the UCF offense to playing any snaps at any other position in Sean McVay’s NFL offense?
  • If the Rams want to find room for Jacob Harris because he’s just “too damn good at catching the football” then which wide receiver do they demote: Robert Woods, Cooper Kupp, DeSean Jackson, Van Jefferson, or Tutu Atwell?
  • The first time that Jacob Harris caught more than three passes in a game was September 26, 2020. The first time that he crossed over 100 yards in a game was November 27, 2020. How probable is it that the same player could have an impact in an NFL game less than a year later?
  • The first time that Jacob Harris played in a game against a top-25 program was November 21, 2020. UCF might not be “Division-II” but I’m not sure that Jacob Harris faced that many more future NFL players while playing for the Golden Knights than Trey Lance did while playing at North Dakota State. How ready could Jacob Harris possibly be for the transition from facing Houston, Temple, Tulsa, Memphis, and South Florida, to facing the Seahawks, 49ers, Cardinals, Packers, and Saints?

Harris recently did an interview for the Rams YouTube channel, saying that it really is a “whole different world” when playing tight end:

I won’t be surprised if many fans expect Harris to be no less than an option for McVay and Matthew Stafford next season, but how many timelines are there that involve Harris getting offensive snaps in 2021 because something good happened?

Not many.

We know that Harris is a unique athlete and that he made some noise at OTAs. But Harris really did not do anything in practice that was not expected of him by the NFL already. The league was aware that he was big, fast, and able to use his wingspan and body control to haul in highlight reel grabs. The reasons for why he was a fourth round pick instead of a first round pick still exist because Harris almost certainly needs a lot more time before he can line up as an inline blocker against NFL competition.

And if he gets on the field as a wide receiver, it would most likely come from the outside, and it could also signal to the defense that if Harris is on the field then he could be the presumed target.

For now, I would expect that Brycen Hopkins, Kendall Blanton, and Johnny Mundt are competing to be the backup to Tyler Higbee and the number two tight end when multiple are on the field. In Harris’s case, I think he’s only competing if a player gets injured or if he is as unparalleled of a student as he is as an athlete.

That is not a scenario that we can rule out. I would never rule him out.

I like Jacob Harris a lot.