Underrated Will Harris Brings Stability to Lions’ Defensive Backfield

Will Harris

Getty Will Harris reacts late in the Lions' big 2021 win over the Cardinals.

The Detroit Lions have made a flurry of moves early in free agency designed to help their defense, and some may be tempted to ignore one of the most important.

Will Harris has received a bad rap with the Lions since struggling at safety after being a third-round pick of the previous regime in 2019. But a switch to the slot has jump-started his career, and he will be coming back in 2023.

As Dave Birkett of the Detroit Free Press first revealed on Tuesday, March 14, Harris was expected to return to the Lions on a one-year deal for 2023.

“Will Harris is expected to return to the Lions on a one-year deal. Harris played his best football after moving to CB, should be in the mix for slot CB duties in 2023,” Birkett tweeted.

The Lions officially revealed the return of Harris on Thursday, March 16. The Lions are also paying Harris a very fair price. The total for the deal is $2.582 million, which was reported by Aaron Wilson of KPRC2 Houston.

“Lions William Harris one year, $2.582 million (gtd), $152,500 signing bonus, salary $2.43 million guaranteed,” Wilson tweeted.

That’s the kind of deal that could serve as a big value for the Lions. Detroit doesn’t have to pay a premium price for a player who they know fits their scheme and offers quality depth at a position of severe need for 2023.

It’s a move that won’t get loads of credit, but should get more positive run for Brad Holmes and his crew.

Will Harris Enjoyed Cornerback Switch With Lions

Harris, who had been a safety in the league previously, shifted to cornerback during the 2021 season and it was a move that helped Harris and the team in a big way from that point until now.

While some would believe it would have been best to give up on Harris, the Lions seemed committed to helping Harris showcase his talent. That paid off in a big way during the 2022 season.

Harris managed to rise to the level of being Pro Football Focus’s top rated cornerback for the Lions last year relative to his play. Twitter user Devoted2Detroit pointed that out after the deal was done.

“Will Harris had the highest PFF grade among #Lions corners in 2022,” the account reminded.

Overall, this re-signing was the right move ahead of the 2022 season. The Lions had enough holes on defense, and didn’t need to give up on a young player like Harris given their needs on the roster. While folks will continue to point to how Harris has struggled, he also showed he could accept changes and use them to his advantage. So far, so good with regards to that.

It’s always easier for a franchise to give up on players, but there’s something to be said for teams that make something work. Harris will have to work hard to earn and keep his role, but it seems as if the Lions want to see him put in better positions to have success rather than setting him up to fail automatically. Putting him in matchup based scenarios allowed the Lions a chance at doing this on defense, and Harris succeeded.

Harris’s Career Stats & Highlights

During his first few years in the league, Harris had an up and down career as he struggled to find his role on the back end with the Lions.

So far, the Lions have seen Harris only put up modest stats. He’s collected 228 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 12 passes defended for the team. He also collected two forced fumbles and one interception. Harris has seen the field consistently at cornerback with 10 starts and 15 games in 2022.

At Boston College, Harris put up 225 tackles, 7 interceptions 7 passes defended, 1 touchdown and 1 sack. That was great production that showed what he could do. Here’s a look at some of his best work from that time period:

Will Harris college highlightsWatch Detroit Lions safety Will Harris' Boston College highlights.2019-04-27T14:38:11Z

Harris does have skills, which led him to be Detroit’s third-round pick in 2019. Now, the team seems to know how to use him best and has brought him back to fill that specific role.

It’s a move that could be easily forgotten in free agency given the flurry of other moves, but that should not be the case. Harris is back at a good price to play a key role for the Lions.

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