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Chris Harris Jr. has beaten the NFL odds once.
As we start the 2014 season, he has an opportunity to do it all over again.
A player who originally made the Broncos squad as an undrafted rookie in 2011, Harris Jr. has progressed into the most versatile defensive player on their roster. In a pass-happy league, his ability to play both outside at cornerback and inside in the slot makes Harris Jr. not only rare but extremely valuable in today’s NFL.
He’s not only adaptable, but ultra competitive, quick, and has the incredible capability of covering big receivers on the outside, along with the small speedy guys on the inside.
After having a solid 2013 regular season with 65 tackles and three interceptions, Harris Jr. sustained an ACL injury during the Divisional Round game versus the San Diego Chargers sidelining him for the remainder of the playoffs as well as the Super Bowl.
Fast forward six and a half months, and Harris Jr. is attempting to accomplish what many before him have failed to do. Returning to the fast, hard-hitting, NFL level of play so soon after a devastating knee injury has been a mixed bag over the years, especially in such a short time frame.
The obvious comparisons to Vikings’ running back Adrian Peterson have begun to surface as his recovery from the same injury has been short of miraculous. When asked about Peterson’s amazing on field performance since his knee injury Harris Jr. has said. “I know everyone always talks about [Vikings RB] Adrian Peterson’s comeback, but you all need to talk about my comeback because I came back a lot faster than Adrian Peterson did.”
Comparisons to fellow Broncos teammate Von Miller are also inevitable as Miller suffered a similar injury during the 2013 season and had his knee surgery a month prior to Harris Jr.’s. “I mean there’s really no comparison,” Harris Jr. said, laughing. “I came back before six months, so there’s no comparison.”
Harris Jr. embraces his underdog role as it began when he played football for the University of Kansas. Second fiddle to basketball, the football program received very little attention, yet Harris Jr. thrived and managed to have one of the best football careers the school has ever seen. This season, he is reunited with fellow Jayhawks teammate Aqib Talib who joins Harris Jr. in the Broncos secondary.
His idea of taking on the underdog status and persevering though adversity has made its way into Harris Jr.’s philanthropic life as well. Every summer, he holds a free football camp for kids in the Denver and Tulsa areas entitled Underdog Football Skills Academy and he and his wife Leah are very active with the Big Brothers and Big Sisters organizations.
Since sustaining the ACL tear, Harris Jr. has set a target date of Week 1 of the NFL season as his triumphant return. After participating in 7-on-7 drills and slowly working his way into regular workouts, it appears that he will be ready to compete by the start of the regular season.
With perennial pro-bowler Champ Bailey no longer in an orange and blue uniform and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in New York, Chris Harris Jr. is now the veteran Bronco at the corner position. He will need to step up and rattle opposing offenses along with Talib, who does have more league experience.
With Harris Jr.’s track record of overcoming odds and adversity, it should be fun to watch him take his recovery head on and emerge as a leader on Denver’s new-look defense.