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Charles Harris: A true difference-maker at Missouri

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The two-star recruit turned probable first-round draft pick definitely made his presence (and absence) felt with the Tigers

NCAA Football: Missouri at Florida
Charles Harris: high-stepping into (probably) the first round.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

In case you haven’t heard, former Missouri defensive end Charles Harris is probably going in the first round tonight.

Maybe it will be to the Detroit Lions at 21, the Dallas Cowboys at 28 or the Atlanta Falcons at 31. Maybe it will be to the Indianapolis Colts at 15, the Baltimore Ravens at 16 or the Tennessee Titans at 18.

Maybe it will be ... even higher?

At any rate, it seems likely that Harris will become the fifth Missouri defensive end picked in the past four drafts and, along with Shane Ray, #DLineZou’s second first-rounder in the past three.

You’ve probably read eight cajillion words about Harris in his four years in Columbia. Good words, at that. You might not have heard, but he played basketball once. And nobody had heard of him until signing day 2013. And his father is a long-haul trucker, spending long periods of time away from home to provide for his family. And he was one of the driving forces behind a protest movement of some repute, if I recall correctly.

So what else is there to write about Charles Harris? I dunno, man. But here’s an attempt at something new.

In my quest to try and co-opt every advanced analytic baseball stat for football, I got to thinking about VORP -- Value Over Replacement Player.

How much better was Missouri’s defense with Charles Harris in over the past two years as opposed to when one of his backups was in?

Luckily, I’ve got just the thing for that. Meticulously kept snap counts from the past four seasons.

I went over all of the Tigers’ non-kneel defensive stats in 2015-16 to see how the defense did when Harris was in and when Harris was out.

Yes, there are mitigating circumstances. Like, he’s only 1/11th of the defense. And, if Harris is out, maybe it means that some other starters are out as well, so that compounds the difficulties for the defense.

But I still think it’s interesting. And that’s all that really matters, you know.

So, drumroll please, over the past two years, by purely “yards per play” metric, Missouri’s defense was 14 PERCENT better with Harris on the field than when he was off the field.

To put it simpler terms, Missouri’s defense was 0.82 yards a play better with Harris on the field (5.12) than off (5.94).

Doesn’t seem like that big of a difference, right? Well, over the course of the season, it would be.

Let’s take the average of non-kneel plays (887) over the past two years. At 5.12 yards a play, it’s 4541 yards against. At 5.94 yards a play, it’s 5269 yards again.

That’s 728 yards. Or, like, nine touchdowns.

That’s quite a difference.

Here’s the overall data.

Over the two years, the run average when Harris was on the field versus off was just about the same (lending some credence, perhaps, to the sometimes-held knock on Harris that he’s not great against the run?).

But the completion percentage against is 14 percent better and the yards per pass against is nearly 19 percent better.

And the “PPS” — or pass attempts per sack — is nearly 67 percent better. Missouri logged a sack on a pass attempt about three times more often when Harris was in the game than when he was out.

Think about this: Missouri logged 51 sacks with Harris on the field over the past two years and only four without him.

The difference was especially stark in 2016, when the Tigers had 26 sacks with Harris on the field and only ONE with him on the bench:

Yards per play was nearly 14 percent better, plays gaining zero yards or fewer was 23 percent better...but you know what’s strange?

Turnovers with Harris on the field were way down. The Tigers got a turnover every 24 plays with Harris off the field as opposed to every 66 with Harris on.

I think a little bit of that is a function of small sample size, though, because it’s the same in 2015, if a little less pronounced.

Still, over the course of his two years starting, Missouri was about twice as likely to get a turnover by rate when Harris was out (one per 29.9 plays) as when he was in (58.9).

In 2015, with a better defense around him, the differences between when he was on and off the field were less pronounced, but still there.

With Harris on the field, yards per pass was 25 percent better, offsetting yards per rush -- which was 8 percent worse — and making for a total of 7 percent better overall in yards per play when Harris was on the field as opposed to when he was off.

Sacks came 18 percent more frequently and nothing plays came about 8 percent more frequently.

So, while we may never truly know Harris’ VORP, we do know that the difference between when he was in and when one of his backups was in was demonstrable for the Missouri defense.

Sounds like a first-round draft pick to me.

Harris3_Ark
Charles Harris
Derrick Forsythe (Rock M Nation)