The Detroit Lions sent shock waves through the NFL world when they dealt a fifth-round pick to the New York Giants for defensive tackle Damon “Snacks” Harrison this week.
Harrison is in his eighth NFL season and has made a name for himself stopping the run. The defensive tackle has a combined 31 tackles—four for a loss—this season and almost all of them have come against the run.
Detroit has had one of the league’s worst run defenses this season—ranking 30th in DVOA—and was one of the main causes of the team’s slow start this year. The motivation behind this trade is obvious, but can Harrison be the anchor on the interior the Lions desperately need?
The defensive tackle’s most stand out trait is his immense size. At 6-foot-3, 341 pound, Harrison is easily the biggest player on the Lions roster. His size makes him a nuisance to opposing offensive lineman. Once he occupies a gap opponents can’t shove him out of it, even when they try to double team him.
Harrison is lined up in 1-tech on the playside A-gap here. Atlanta is using man blocking to try and open the gap for their running back. Both the center and the right guard (left side from the camera’s point of view) enclose Harrison to try to take him out of the play. The defensive tackle grabs the outside shoulder of the center and dispatches him—all while using the other side of his body to hold off the guard. He gets beneath the guard’s pads, shoves him back and grabs on to the ball carrier as he passes by to stop the run. Had the linebacker behind Harrison not walked into a block then this play may have ended up for a loss.
The defensive tackle’s strength and use of leverage seems almost impossible. He throws away blocks with ease. He cannot be moved out the spot that he is occupying. He seemingly always manages to get a lower pad level.
While his teammates do not always follow up properly, he usually puts them in a position to succeed.
Harrison is again in 1-tech in the playside A gap. The Falcons are attempting to zone block on this play near their own goal line. The left guard tries to block Harrison, but the defensive tackle holds his ground. Harrison creates a log jam at the point of attack and one of his teammates is able to stop the run in the backfield for a short loss. This will not show up in the box score for Harrison, but the tackle for loss was created by his ability to clog up the interior of the offensive line.
While a man as big as Harrison is usually expected to be stiff and immobile, it’s not the case at all for him. The veteran is surprisingly athletic and can twist and turn to make plays if he needs.
This is a rare play where Harrison loses his gap. Philadelphia’s center gets beneath his opponent and move Harrison out of the A gap. This creates room for running back Wendell Smallwood coming out of the backfield. He is quickly able to turn the tables, though. Harrison is able to dip his shoulder to get beneath the center then quickly twist his body and reach out towards Smallwood as he runs by. The defender gets a hand on the football and strips the running back as he goes by.
The veteran is also great at moving horizontally and is able to leave his spot in the middle of the defensive front to make plays near the sideline.
Philadelphia uses slide blocking to execute a stretch run on this play. Harrison almost instantly gets to the inside shoulder of the guard he is lined up across from and avoids letting the offensive lineman ever really getting away. He throws off all of his opponent’s attempts to knock him off balance as he takes off towards the sideline to stop the run. Harrison manages to cover half the length of the field horizontally without surrendering any ground, stopping the run for a short gain.
Harrison is one of the league’s best run defenders, and he will be an instant upgrade for Detroit. Gap integrity has been a huge issue for the Lions’ front-seven and adding an anchor like Harrison to the middle will make everyone else’s jobs easier. He can create plays for his teammates, as well, making his presence a boost for everyone.
He does have some faults, though. Harrison is unplayable on passing downs. The defensive tackle doesn’t generate any pressure from the interior when he is rushing. While he is great at holding his ground, he can’t penetrate the interior of the an offense at all. New York never had him on the field in non-goal line third downs and even got him out of the game on longer second downs.
This is fine for Detroit, though. Rookie Da’Shawn Hand has been a revelation for the Lions and has gotten a majority of his work done as an interior pass penetrator. He will most likely play passing downs and often get rest on earlier downs—cutting down on his ridiculously-high snap count. With Jarrad Davis taking a role on Detroit’s pass rush package, having to take Harrison off the field sometimes may not be a big concern.
Either way, the Lions just got a huge boost to the weakest unit on the team. What has been a weakness for Detroit may have just become a strength, and Harrison is a boon to a Lions team that is heating up at the right time.