DULUTH -- Before an Achilles tendon injury intervened, cornerback Deion Harris was shooting up NFL draft boards about as fast as he jumps passes. The 2014 Hibbing graduate’s breakthrough junior season at the University of North Dakota, the one that featured five interceptions and three pick-sixes, made him a hot commodity.
Harris was viewed as a trendy sleeper, with Sporting News going so far as to rank him the 18th-best prospect of the 2018 draft. Granted, that was a full year before Harris’ draft class. But it offers an idea of how high this ex-Bluejacket’s stock had soared.
Physical, 6-foot-3 200-pounders with sub-4.5-second speed in the 40-yard dash aren’t conventional.
Suffering a complete tear of his left Achilles tendon during a July 2017 workout pushed Harris’ senior season back to last fall, and it silenced the early round chatter. Now he’s simply hoping to have his name called during this week’s draft, which runs Thursday, April 25, through Saturday.
When you consider the last pick of the 2018 first round — quarterback Lamar Jackson — inked a four-year contract with the Baltimore Ravens worth $9.47 million, plus a $4.97 million signing bonus, few would blame Harris for wallowing in a little self-pity.
No thanks, he insists.
“I just look at it and put it in a positive way, that God has a plan for me,” Harris said. “Teams might not look at me as highly as they did before, but I know when I get in the league and when I have my foot in the door, when I start having my opportunities, they’ll hear about me.”
Rather than watch the proceedings from the notorious green room in Nashville, Tenn. — reserved for A-list draftees — as he may have had the chance to do a year ago, Harris is back in Hibbing this week. There’s talk of a watch party Saturday, when rounds 4-7 take place, at the BoomTown brewery.
Often, expected late-round picks don’t monitor the event from start to finish. Too nerve-racking. Harris all but guffawed when asked if he’d be following along, his laugh cutting the question short.
“Oh, yeah,” he said. “I’m watching the whole thing. I’ll be watching every pick. My eyes will be glued to the TV.”
Based on feedback from NFL teams, Harris is confident that even if he isn’t drafted, he’ll have no shortage of options in free agency. That was the route taken by former Duluth Denfeld star C.J. Ham, and it’s worked out pretty dang well for the current Vikings fullback. A bona fide lockdown corner who has the height to match up with pro receivers, Harris also can play safety, is comfortable in the nickel package and has experience on special teams.
Whatever it takes to get him to “the league.”
Harris says his speed is close to what it was before the injury, which occurred innocuously enough when he simply planted his foot, but he admits his quickness hasn’t yet returned to its previous level, where it was when Harris was bursting onto the scene for Bubba Schweigert’s Fighting Hawks in 2016.
He finished that fall with 36 tackles, 14 passes defended and nine breakups while garnering second-team All-America and first-team Big Sky Conference honors as North Dakota went 9-3. Already highly regarded entering that season, Harris morphed into a star.
While his explosiveness is still working its way back, Harris’ confidence has fully returned. It wasn’t easy.
“It took a long time,” he said. “Took a lot of ups and downs to get my confidence back and do what I’m used to doing.
“I play a little differently than I did before, but I’m getting back to where I was.”
Last season, Harris tallied 27 total tackles and had one interception, to go with seven breakups. The social sciences major graduated in December and spent the next three months working out in Dallas.