FOXBOROUGH, MA – AUGUST 09: Washington Redskins wide receiver Maurice Harris (13) before a preseason NFL game between the New England Patriots and the Washington Redskins on August 9, 2018, at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The Patriots defeated the Redskins 26-17. (Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Not many people were that excited when the New England Patriots signed wide receiver Maurice Harris. Considering the team couldn’t grab Adam Humphries, Cole Beasley, and Golden Tate, most viewed Harris as a consolation signing for missing out on the cream of the free agency crop. However, the former Washington Redskin is reportedly lighting up minicamp and could play a decent role in the offense. Is his early success legitimate, or is the hype all for nothing?

Maurice Harris Film Review: What the Wide Receiver Brings to the Offense

Film Review

The first thing that jumps off the tape with Harris is his impressive contested catch ability. Even with limited playing time, Harris has managed to make a few jaw-dropping grabs against tight coverage. At 6’3” and 200 pounds, Harris is a larger wide receiver who has the build to consistently win with this style of play. Fortunately, he also has soft hands and hauls in just about anything thrown his way.

While those plays are impressive, there are a few glaring holes in Harris’ game. For one, he struggles to consistently gain separation. As seen in the clips above, Harris faces tight coverage when he makes those ridiculous catches. When looking at the film, the grand majority of Harris’ production came against zone coverage, off-man coverage, or just by getting schemed open.

This isn’t necessarily a shot against Harris, as there’s plenty of value in reading the defense and finding the open holes in a zone. For what it’s worth, Harris has flashed the ability to beat press coverage. He never received much playing time in Washington, so perhaps he can improve that ability in New England.

Harris can find holes in zone coverage and win jump balls, but he’s not much of a threat in the open field. This isn’t that surprising, as 6’3″, 200-pound guys aren’t known for their open field prowess. Chances are, the grand majority of his receiving yards will come through the air instead of after the catch.

Metric Breakdown

Trusting your eyes is always a good place to start for player evaluation, but no analysis is complete without looking at the underlying metrics. Player Profiler agrees that Harris excels at hauling in catchable targets. According to the advanced stats website, Harris finished 2018 with 90.3% true catch rate, eighth-best in the league. True catch rate is essentially catch percentage for all realistically-catchable targets, so Harris typically delivers when receiving a good pass. Seeing as Tom Brady is one of the most accurate passers in the league, this bodes well for his future.

Player Profiler also notes that Harris struggled to get away from defenders. The site says that Harris averaged just 1.45 yards of separation per target (52nd) despite receiving an average of 4.53 yards of cushion pre-snap (12th-most). Additionally, only 85 of Harris’ 304 receiving yards came after the catch, which backs up the assessment that he’s not that dangerous in the open field.

Players like Harris can be successful in the NFL, but their struggles to separate naturally lead towards a small margin for quarterback error. Unfortunately, the quartet of Alex Smith, Colt McCoy, Mark Sanchez, and Josh Johnson wasn’t enough to make Harris a productive player. According to Sharp Football Stats, those four passers combined to post a 52.0 passer rating when targeting Harris. While that rating was distorted by an ugly 0-3 TD-INT ratio, it’s still a bad mark.

Harris’ style of play requires a smart, accurate quarterback capable of diagnosing a defense and delivering a perfect strike. Fortunately, Tom Brady fits that description to a key, so Harris should be a more efficient weapon in New England.

Last Word on Maurice Harris

Maurice Harris could be the annual under-the-radar signing who goes on to be a major contributor. The former Redskin has reliable hands and boasts the ability to outleap defenders and haul in contested catches. Additionally, he has an eye for finding the soft spot in zone defenses and can reliably pick up quick gains to help move the chains.

While Harris has positive traits, he’s not what you look for in a starting wide receiver. He’s loosely similar to Chris Hogan in the sense that he struggles to get open against physical press coverage. Most of his “easy” receptions came against zone coverage or were simply products of a smart play call. Additionally, he’s not that dangerous in the open field and doesn’t break many tackles.

Harris probably deserves a spot on the roster, but he shouldn’t be next on the depth chart behind Julian Edelman. In a perfect world, N’Keal Harry will develop into a dependable starter and the Patriots can use Harris as the third or fourth option in the passing game.

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