Nick Harris is heading into his third season as a Cleveland Brown, and he’s had some ups and downs throughout his limited play thus far. He played in 12 games as a rookie in 2020 with one start at right guard in Week 16 versus the New York Jets. It was a pretty rough game for him in regards to overall performance, but the experience was extremely important in terms of getting him some regular-season snaps.
Heading into his sophomore season in 2021, you could tell that he was visibly more comfortable in the offense throughout training camp and preseason games. He was showing more confidence in calling protection adjustments and learning how to take advantage of his mobility in space at the NFL level.
Harris played in 11 games with one start at center versus the Green Bay Packers in Week 16 of the 2021 season. He fared much better in his second NFL start. There were still a few hiccups, but he performed and graded ultimately well.
Nick Harris is entering the 2022 offseason as the defacto starting center for the Browns. Due to the team releasing J.C. Tretter for both age and financial reasons, Harris steps into the most important starting position on the offensive line. The vibe around the organization is extremely positive, which goes a long way in motivating Harris to be the best center that he can be for this team.
Nick Harris’s current style of play
It’s no secret that Harris is undersized for the center position. He measured in at just under 6’1″ at the 2020 NFL Combine. However, being undersized in terms of height is not something to be as concerned about as many would suggest at the center position. Going head-to-head against nose tackles that are 6’3″ and 320 pounds on a consistent basis is actually somewhat advantageous for Harris, from a leverage standpoint. The most consistent move that these 3-4 nose tackles use is the bull rush. By Harris being naturally shorter than his opponents, it gives him the pad-level advantage. He’s able to punch and redirect the defensive lineman’s weight upwards, therefore raising their pad level and rendering their downward force useless.
Example: When a speed boat is going 50 mph and it hits a wave, the boat’s overall force is redirected straight up which stops the forward momentum of the boat. This is basically the physics of what offensive linemen are taught to do when countering a bull rush.
It is very interesting to watch Nick Harris on film because you start to notice little nuances in his game that help make up for his lack of prototypical height. He knows that he has to fight to achieve better angles on the opponent, so he utilizes unorthodox steps and hand movements to try and influence what the defensive lineman does. Naturally, you’re going to see Harris frequently jump-set defensive lineman in pass protection so he can close the gap quicker between him and that player. This makes it so the defender has less time to initiate and carry out their initial pass rush move.
What Cleveland can do in 2022 to get the best out of Nick Harris
Nick Harris is extremely athletic compared to most centers in the league. He’s at his best when he is playing in space, such as “running off the ball” in the zone game and pulling in the power game. Against Green Bay in 2021, Cleveland ran a lot of plays where they pulled Nick Harris and were extremely successful due to his ability as a lead blocker on off-tackle and perimeter plays. He also showed the ability to “rip out” and do a decent job blocking on screen plays as well.
According to multiple reports, he has gained around 17 pounds of “good weight” as well, which would put him around the 310-pound mark. This shows his hard work and determination to do what he needs to do for the betterment of the team. This extra weight will go a long way in terms of improving his overall anchor and power as well.
Harris is able to do some things that J.C. Tretter couldn’t, in terms of athleticism, so it’s going to be interesting to see how Kevin Stefanski might customize some plays to better suit his ability on the interior of the offensive line. I think Cleveland might design or tweak plays to specifically get Harris downfield and/or outside quicker. Whether it’s something simple such as changing Guard-Tackle Counter plays to Center-Tackle Counter plays, or just allowing him to rip/release to the second level immediately on zone plays.
Nick Harris will be a key piece of the puzzle for this Cleveland Browns offense in 2022, and I believe that he’s going to impress a lot of people both inside and outside of the organization.