Packers Annual Checkup: RB DuJuan Harris

Today is the 18th day of FOX Sports Wisconsin Packers writer Paul Imig’s offseason evaluations of every player on Green Bay’s roster. Click here for all of Paul’s previous evaluations and come back every day through mid-March for Paul’s in-depth film and statistical analysis. Coming up soon:

Today: RB DuJuan Harris
Friday, Feb. 15: ILB A.J. Hawk
Saturday, Feb. 16: CB Casey Hayward
Sunday, Feb. 17: CB Davon House 

Monday, Feb. 18: WR Greg Jennings
Tuesday, Feb. 19: S M.D. Jennings
Wednesday, Feb. 20: LB Brad Jones
Thursday, Feb. 21: WR James Jones

DUJUAN HARRIS, RUNNING BACK 

Season stats: Six games (four regular season, two postseason); 62 rushing attempts, 257 yards (4.1 average), four rushing touchdowns, zero fumbles; nine receptions, 81 receiving yards

Best game: Week 17 loss at Minnesota (season-high 38 snaps, 14 carries, 70 yards (5.0 average); two receptions, 17 yards; season-best 1.5 PFF rating)

Worst game: Week 16 win over Tennessee (19 snaps, eight carries, 29 yards (3.6 average), one rushing touchdown; zero receptions; minus-0.4 PFF rating)

ProFootballFocus.com season rating: 2.3 (best among Packers running backs)

Expectations at the start of the season: Low

Expectations were … Exceeded

Looking live: For the first seven weeks of the NFL regular season, Harris was a free agent. The 24-year-old running back wasn’t even a part of any team’s practice squad after being released in the preseason by the Jacksonville Jaguars and Pittsburgh Steelers. In late October, the Packers signed the unknown first-year player out of Troy University to their practice squad. On Dec. 1, Harris was called up to the active roster, with expectations still low that he’d be much of a contributor this season. Then, on Green Bay’s first offensive play in Week 14 against the Detroit Lions, Harris was not only on the field as a starter, but his debut snap was an 11-yard carry that showed quickness and speed the Packers hadn’t seen in their backfield for quite some time. In Harris’ first two games, he was only on the field when the play was called for him to get the ball. Clearly, opposing defenses would have started to notice if that trend continued much longer. But, as Harris became more comfortable with the playbook, his snaps increased drastically. Only two weeks later, in the regular-season finale, Harris was in for more than half of Green Bay’s offensive snaps and had become the team’s unquestioned featured running back.

Upon further review: It’s always perplexing when a running back like Harris goes unnoticed for an extended period of time. Other examples of this recently are Houston’s Arian Foster (undrafted in 2009) and Washington’s Alfred Morris (sixth-round pick in 2012), who were both among the top six NFL running backs in yards this past season. It didn’t take long to see that Harris is loaded with talent. He’s undersized at 5-foot-8, but he’s quick, fast, hits running lanes effectively, rarely hesitates in the backfield, has good hands as a receiver and even showed an ability to block well in pass protection in his eight snaps performing that role. Harris played only 126 total snaps this season, so it’s not a lot of film to display whether that level of performance can continue long-term. However, he could not have been more impressive in his relatively limited opportunities. When the playoffs began, coach Mike McCarthy showed how much he trusted and believed in Harris by making him the team’s starting running back. Though Harris wasn’t outstanding in either postseason game, he was still quite good, catching five passes in the wild-card win and running for an average of 4.8 yards on 11 carries in the divisional-round loss.

Overall 2012 grade: B+

Status for 2013: 100 percent chance of being on the Packers’ Week 1 active roster; 50 percent chance of being the Packers’ starting running back next season. There’s nothing else Harris could have done in 2012 to show that he deserves an opportunity to be the starter in 2013. But, with Alex Green (2011 third-round pick) and James Starks (playoff hero in 2010) on the roster, Harris has competition already. Then, if the Packers decide to re-sign Cedric Benson, or if the team opts to draft a running back in the early rounds, Harris’ chances to be the starter will decline. Whatever Green Bay’s roster ends up looking like by Week 1, though, Harris’ name will be on it. 

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