ALLEN PARK, Mich. -- Damon Harrison is one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL. Year after year, the 30-year-old is touted as one of the game’s premier run-stoppers.
This year, after he was traded from the New York Giants to the Detroit Lions, he almost single-handedly affected his new team’s run defense. After giving up over 100 yards rushing in four of the first six games without Harrison, the Lions gave up only four 100-yard games in the last nine games of the season (not counting the Seattle game, where Harrison was on the roster but still adjusting to the system).
Pro Football Focus graded him as the No. 3 interior defender in the league and had him at a league-best run-stop percentage of 16 percent and first-contact percentage (21.2). And yet, Harrison will sit home this week as the Pro Bowl commences in Florida.
Harrison said last month he knew he wasn’t going to make the league’s annual all-star game. Never has. In his eyes, never will.
“I don’t think it’s possible,” Harrison said. “We have a lot of great defensive tackles in the league, so it’ll be hard. So, nah, I don’t think it’s possible.”
It has very little, though, to do with his play. Harrison is in the unfortunate position of playing a position where different defensive fronts mean different types of players get classified along with him. So his run-stopping stats -- while incredibly impressive -- don’t carry the same gravitas as the high sack numbers other players might put up.
He isn’t the only player with that issue. For years, 4-3 outside linebackers have dealt with similar issues when compared with 3-4 outside linebackers. Backers in a 3-4 system are often asked to rush the passer more. That leads to more sacks and more tackles for loss, such that a 4-3 linebacker would have to be overly dominant -- or have a particularly outstanding year in pass coverage with a bunch of interceptions -- to have a shot at accolades.
Same for Harrison's position, where the name of the position may be the same but the job is wholly different.
“You got guys that don’t play defensive tackle, they are 3-4 ends and to get into the Pro Bowl, they classify them as defensive tackles,” Harrison said. “There’s ways around it for those guys. Again, they earned it. I just don’t think I would get it.”
Which leads to a question -- one that has been brought up before. In a more-specialized-than-ever NFL, why not be more specific when it comes to Pro Bowl positioning? Allow one (or two) spots for nose tackles or run-first tackles. Same with 4-3 outside linebackers and slot cornerbacks.
Harrison, of course, wouldn’t mind that -- saying “that’d be nice” if they did it.
But he doesn’t seem to be expecting it anytime soon. Unless it happens, one of the top defensive players in the NFL might never get the postseason invite he deserves.