On December 29th, Damien Harris and the Alabama Crimson Tide will face the Oklahoma Sooners in the Orange Bowl with a spot in the college football national championship on the line. The 5-foot-11-inch, 215-pound senior running back is projected by some to be the first RB drafted next spring. Does his profile warrant such consideration? And how should he be valued in dynasty rookie drafts next summer?
THE EARLY YEARS
As an elite five-star prospect, Harris had a multitude of scholarship offers after finishing second in Kentucky state history in total career touchdowns (122). As a freshman in 2015, he averaged just 3.4 yards per carry on 46 rushes playing behind two future NFL RBs in Derrick Henry and Kenyan Drake. In 2016, Harris saw an exponential bump in opportunity putting up a 146-1037-2 rushing line. He also chipped in with 12 receptions, two of which went for touchdowns. Forty percent of his carries went for a first down or a TD, and he got more efficient later in games averaging 8.0 yards per carry in second halves compared to 6.5 yards per carry in first halves.
2017 AND BEYOND
As a junior in 2017, Harris remained an extremely efficient runner averaging 7.4 yards per carry, seventh-best in the country. He also scored a team-high 11 TDs and hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the second straight season. Through 12 games in 2018, Harris again faced major competition for touches in a deep and talented backfield. The emergence of quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and the Crimson Tide passing game also limited the necessity for a voluminous run game.
Harris’s 126-771-7 rushing line is solid despite being a bit underwhelming for a runner with a potential first-round grade. Despite a dip in production in his final season, Harris is one of just 16 RBs since 2000 to average 6.5 yards per carry on 450-plus career carries. The majority of that cohort have found success in the NFL including Melvin Gordon, Ezekiel Elliott, Marshawn Lynch, and Dalvin Cook.
Arbitrary statistical cutoffs and comparisons are enough to get anyone excited about Harris as a prospect. But when we dig deeper into his production profile, red flags do emerge. Harris’ minimal receiving production and complete lack of return game involvement hurt his outlook. According to research by Anthony Amico, RBs that fail to achieve a breakout season, defined as averaging at least 130 adjusted all-purpose-yards per game, have historically been unreliable fantasy assets:
|Breakout Age||Total||Hits||Percent Hit||Avg Best PPR|
Back in March I explored the idea of First-Year Workhorse Scores (FYWS) and their importance in terms of future production. Harris’ 0.03 FYWS falls well short of the 0.25 threshold I found to be significant. Just 11 percent of the RBs to score 200 or more PPR points since 2012 recorded a FYWS of 0.07 or worse. Harris’ age (21.9) should also be taken into consideration. Blair Andrews found that RBs who played their rookie season at age 22 produce a top-24 season just over 20 percent of the time:
Given how important athleticism is for RBs compared to WRs, I’m not ready to write Harris off based on the studies above. But based on his age and lack of early dominance, I currently view him as an early-second-round rookie pick with room for improvement based on athleticism and landing spot.