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How the Bengals “trash” became the Broncos “treasure”

(Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images)

The Broncos have a knack for finding talent that other teams overlook. Whether it was Todd Davis (Saints) or Brandon Marshall (Jaguars), the Broncos have been able to scoop players up from other teams that have turned into quality players and starters for Denver.

One of the newest players that fits that bill is cornerback Davontae Harris. The Broncos were able to pick him up before the start of the regular season after the Bengals released him after the preseason.

He was a reserve player for the Broncos during the first month of the season. However, multiple injuries at the cornerback position and the struggles of Isaac Yiadom led the Broncos to inserting Harris into the starting lineup in Week 6 against the Titans.

Broncos head coach Vic Fangio liked what he saw from Harris during his first start with the Broncos.

“He did alright for his first start in the NFL. Obviously, they caught some balls on him. But I think overall he did fine considering where he came from. What’s that saying? ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ He didn’t make Cincinnati’s squad so we’re glad to have him,” Fangio said.

Is Harris the next great find for the Broncos? Let’s take a look.


Serious Injury to Small-School Stud

Harris suffered a serious injury playing high school football. During his senior year at Wichita South, Harris took a cleat to the stomach and suffered torn small and large intestines. He survived the injury, but there were plenty of colleges that were interested in him that turned their backs on Harris after this serious injury.

Illinois State still wanted Harris, but he had a redshirt year when he was a freshman. When he got onto the field as a sophomore, Harris was impressive yet raw. A track star, Harris had the speed to recover quickly and he honed his skill set for his junior season – the best statistical season of his college career.

As a junior, Harris was a first-team All-Missouri Valley Football Conference selection. During the 2016 season, Harris started 11 of 12 games and finished with a conference-leading 15 passes defended (two interceptions, 13 breakups) coupled with 55 tackles.

His numbers dipped as a senior, but Harris was still named as a second-team FCS All-American by the Associated Press and a first-team all-conference pick. He was invited to the 2018 Scouting Combine and turned in a good performance.
Harris showed off his speed with a 4.43-second 40-yard dash. His quickness was on full display with his 6.96-second three-cone drill. Harris also surprised some with his strength by pushing up 225 pounds on the bench press a whopping 22 times. All that was enough to cement him on the radar of scouts as a mid-round prospect with intriguing upside.


Bengals Take a Chance

In the fifth round of the 2018 NFL draft, the Bengals selected Harris with the idea that he could be a developmental player for them. Measuring in at 5-foot-11-inches and 205 pounds, some felt that if Harris didn’t work out at cornerback then he could be moved to safety. Harris does have that type of versatility, football intelligence and quality tackling skills but he never really got a chance with the Bengals.

Harris suffered a knee injury in the preseason finale for his rookie season and was placed on Injured Reserve to start the regular season. After his recovery was complete, the Bengals chose Harris as one of their “Designated to Return” players and he was activated in early December of 2018.

During that last month of the regular season, Harris appeared in three games for the Bengals. He didn’t get that much playing time when active and only compiled one tackle in those three contests.


Opportunity Knocks

Harris was added by the Broncos after the Bengals decided to expose him to the open market. Like Davis and Marshall mentioned above, there was a hope he would be able to return to the practice squad to continue his development. Instead, again like Davis and Marshall, the Broncos ruined those plans and swooped in to pick Harris up.

Coming out of Illinois State, Harris was known as a player that was smart, always around the ball and a good tackler. However, scouts believed that Harris would be better in a zone defense than he would be in a defense that put him into man-to-man situations.

That’s what makes him a great fit for the Fangio defense. Harris has a responsibility in the zone and knows where his help is going to be. That puts him in a good position to make plays.

Kareem Jackson is a seasoned veteran and has been a quality player for years in the NFL at both cornerback and safety. He likes what he saw from Harris in his first start.

“I think he played pretty good. Execution-wise, he went out and he competed and that’s what the coaches expect out of him and so do we as his teammates. He had a great week of practice, so I think he went out and I think played great for us,” Jackson said.

Justin Simmons also had high praise for Harris and emphasized how the team intends to help him going forward.

“I think we do a great job of helping everyone on the field with moving things around. Davontae, he’s a great young player. I think he’s doing great. He realizes what he’s getting when he’s out there, where his help is at and where is help is not. I think it’s also our job as safeties to make sure we’re helping him out with calls. Put him in the best possible situation,” Simmons said.

Denver doesn’t get every pick or free-agent addition right. However, there is a talent they have when finding gems from late-round and undrafted picks – even if those players began their careers on other teams. It’s only one game, but it looks like Harris might be another mark in the positive column of that category.


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