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Film room: Bengals add excellent nickel cornerback in Illinois State’s Davontae Harris

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Davontae Harris was not on the radar of many Bengals fans before the team selected him in the 5th round. His college film reveals a player who has all the tools to be an excellent nickel cornerback.

2018 NFL Draft Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

With Darqueze Dennard and Josh Shaw potentially becoming free agents in 2019 and Adam Jones already gone, it is not a surprise the Bengals looked to add cornerbacks in this year’s draft. Illinois State’s Davontae Harris was not a player who was widely talked about leading up the the draft, but the team has since revealed he was a player they had long targeted. Could Harris be the future at nickel cornerback for the Bengals?

A nickel corner needs to have speed and coverage ability similar to what is desired in an outside corner, but the physicality to help in run support. Harris has good size and excellent speed. His film demonstrates his understanding of zone defense and his ability to read an offense. He also shows an excellent ability to make tackles in the open field as well as in run support.

Here are some examples of from Harris’ film, which demonstrate that he has the skillset to develop into an excellent nickel corner in the NFL.

Zone Coverage

Harris has an keen understanding of his role in zone coverage. In the clip below, Harris is the cover two corner. He jams the wide receiver and sinks underneath his route gaining depth and width. Another receiver passes in front of him, but Harris stays disciplined, continuing to play the deeper route while reading the quarterback. When the quarterback attempts to put the ball into a tight window on the sideline, Harris accelerates and is able to come up with the interception. While he would not be filling this exact role within the defense as a nickel corner, he would need to read the quarterback and makes plays on similar high/low concepts.

In the clip below, Harris starts once again by jamming his opponent to the inside and rides the route as he goes vertical initially. When Harris gets his eye to the quarterback, he sinks and cuts off the throwing lane to the wheel route. This is a great read and also demonstrates Harris’ knowledge of the post/wheel passing concept and how to defend it. Once again, Harris is in position to intercept the pass.

Man Coverage

Harris does not have great press man technique. His body can get out of position allowing the wide receiver to get a step or two on him with a good release. Throughout his college career Harris has been able to make up for this with his recovery speed and a little luck in the form of under-thrown deep balls. In the clip below, he gets off balance and gives up the inside release. His speed allows him to quickly close the gap between him and the wide receiver and he finishes the play perfectly by playing the ball with his off-hand and securing the tackle with his on-hand.

Run Support

Although Harris primarily played as an outside corner in college, tight formations sometimes turned him into a box player. As a run defender on this play, he patiently waits for the pitch to take place then breaks inside-out on the ball. This ensures the running back cannot cut back and he finishes with a tackle for loss.

On the play below, Harris shows his ability to get off blocks. When the tight end comes out to block him, Harris engages on his outside shoulder. This allows Harris to remain on the outside where he can ensure the running back is not able to bounce out wide. He shocks the would-be blocker, quickly disengages, and makes the tackle in the backfield.

Harris has the size, speed, and skill to translate to the NFL as a slot corner. He makes great reads in zone coverage and has excellent ball skills. He is physical enough to get off of blocks and is a sure tackler. Harris could be the answer the Bengals are looking for at nickel corner if they cannot re-sign Dennard after the 2018 season.