Undrafted…unproven…and perhaps, under the radar, the Indianapolis Colts’ Jonotthan Harrison is quietly starting to turn heads after his performance against Houston.
Of course, it wasn’t always this way for Harrison. His career started off a bit rocky, as Harrison had 3 miss-snaps in his 1st start against a stingy Baltimore Ravens’ defensive front in Week 5. However, Harrison rebounded, as he showed tremendous poise and was highly productive in his second go-around of things versus the Texans.
Oct 9, 2014; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck (12) throws a pass against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium, while his center Jonotthan Harrison (#72) protects. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports
In what was initially a head-scratching decision late in Week 5, Colts’ head coach Chuck Pagano benched then fill-in starter, A.Q. Shipley, who had performed well in the the team’s 1st 4 games as starter, in favor of Harrison. Many were left wondering as to why the Colts’ brass would tinker with something that was clearly working well, must less against a defense that is notorious for being big and physical along their defensive front…with an undrafted rookie center.
No clear explanation was provided, and Harrison suffered a bit from perhaps both inexperience and jitters against the seasoned Baltimore Ravens in his 1st career start. The criticisms only came in louder.
This is a contending team afterall, how could Chuck Pagano or Colts’ GM Ryan Grigson look any of those proud men in the eye in the locker room and tell them that Harrison reasonably gave the team the best chance to win? Players like Reggie Wayne and Cory Redding at 35 and 33 years old respectively likely don’t have a ton of football left, could anyone reasonably blame them if they didn’t want to waste it watching an undrafted rookie center develop into maybe something special?
Yet, perhaps Harrison does give the Colts their best chance to win, at leats in the long-term. Hear me out. Yes, there are sure to be more hiccups and growing pains, but clearly there’s talent and potential here. This isn’t a high draft pick that the Colts are trying to force-feed into the Colts’ lineup to try to save face and protect their reputations. Rather, he’s an undrafted rookie center. The Colts’ brass has nothing invested in him besides Harrison’s meager $427,500, a penny in today’s NFL. That alone tells me the Colts see something in him, and they see more of Harrison than we do, particularly in weekly practices.
Second, while Shipley filled in admirably in his 4 starts and far exceeded expectations, he’s already 28 years old. At this point in his career, what you see from him is likely what you’re going to get from here on out. He’s been with 4 different organizations in his 6 years of being in the NFL, including team’s practice squads. While that shouldn’t be held against him by any means, it’s not as though he’s necessarily the prized turkey at the state fair. You could make the case that he’s already a bit of a journeyman for today’s NFL standards.
Nov 9, 2013; Gainesville, FL, USA; Florida Gators offensive linesman Jonotthan Harrison (72) against the Vanderbilt Commodores during the first quarter at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Meanwhile, at the tender age of 23 and a listed 6’4″, 308 pounds, Harrison has room to grow. He has room to grow just not on the field, but physically, in the weight room. For comparison, with Shipley being 6’1″, 307 pounds, it’s logical to think that with 3 extra inches, the still-green Harrison has room to further fill-out his bigger frame. Giving him extra strength in the trenches.
After looking over his combine measurables, coming out of the University of Florida, it’s worth noting that his broad jump of 113.0 inches was the best at the combine among all center participants. Perhaps indicating some of his untapped athletic ability.
It’s not just Harrison’s physical potential though, as he’s actually shown promise in his on-the-field production. Consider that after his Week 5 shaky debut of a start against the Baltimore Ravens that Harrison registered an overall grade of -2.2, according to the advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus (PFF). This effectively placed him as the 37th best center overall among all active qualifiers.
Harrison showed clear progress; however, as his +1.4 performance against the Houston Texans last week elevated him to the 19th best center overall. His +1.6 grade in solely pass protection, places him as the 6th best center overall in that regard (PFF).
Still, A.Q. Shipley with an overall grade of +5.2 still remains the 6th best center according to PFF, even 2 weeks after his benching. It’s possible that he’s still a better short-term solution than Harrison at the moment. However, the Colts have decided to develop, while contend. A risky proposition for a team that considers itself a contender, yet one that could ultimately pay off dividends in the team’s long-term future.