During the 2019 season, Shelby Harris received a lot of love from Broncos Country. However, it wasn't as justly-deserved as you'd think as the Denver Broncos ultimately let him hit the open free-agent market.
As an unrestricted free agent, NFL teams didn't show Harris the love that he and outside salary cap sites like Spotrac expected. He languished on the open market before re-signing with the Broncos on a very cheap, one-year, $3.095 million deal.
Fast forward to the 2020 season and Harris is once again garnering a lot of love from fans, only this time, it is much more deserved. He wasn't bad in 2019 — don't mistake what I'm saying — he just wasn't as great as he was made out to be in the minds of Broncos Country.
Last season, Harris' average get-off time was 1.11 seconds to get a quarter of a yard upfield. That is a solid number but good numbers are below the one-second mark. He picked up 28 total pressures and six sacks with 27 stops on the 2019 season.
Just through six games in 2020, Harris is on pace for 40 total pressures, eight sacks, and 29 total stops. What's more is his average time to get-off the snap is the second-highest in the NFL among all defensive linemen and edge players at .94 seconds. This improvement is leading to earlier wins in the down.
This has resulted in a faster time to sack for Harris. While in 2019, his average time to sack was just under four seconds at 3.96, he's seen it drop to an average of 2.79 seconds this season. It sounds like the team attributes this improvement in Harris' get-off/rush to his weight loss.
“I think he’s come back to camp in the best shape that he’s been in in a long, long time," head coach Vic Fangio said last week. "His weight is down, and it’s really been reflected in his play.”
Harris' six sacks last year, many of which were coverage sacks, are turning into the self-created variety this year as a result of that improved get-off. He has also continued his savvy penchant for getting his hands up to tip passes when he's unable to get home, leading to three tipped balls through six games, which is among the league-lead among defensive linemen.
In Week 6, fans got a good reminder of how valuable those tipped passes at the line can be when Harris knocked a Cam Newton ball up into the air as fellow Broncos' D-lineman DeShawn Williams dived to make the interception.
"He’s really good at it. He’s probably the best I’ve been around in that regard," Fangio said. "I think the thing with Shelby is that he’s playing a lot better too this year. His overall game is better and when your overall game is better, you’re going to get more opportunities to bat some balls."
Harris' decision to return to Denver, albeit on a prove-it deal, was a good one. The question now becomes, how much longer will Harris be in Denver?
He'll be a free agent after the season but this time around, he should be looking at a sizable contract, thanks to his much-improved play both as a pass rusher and as a run defender. Only time will tell whether it'll be the Broncos who give it to him, or an outside team.