Madre Harper may have failed to hear his name called in the 2020 NFL Draft. However, there’s no denying that the Southern Illinois alumn packs loads of upside and intrigue into his 6-foot-1-inch, 196-pound frame. Originally latching on with the Las Vegas Raiders as a rookie, Harper was poached off the team’s practice squad by the New York Giants in October of last season — much to the disdain of the Raiders organization.
NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that the Raiders “had plans” for the 23-year-old cornerback moving forward. However, Big Blue offered a $25,000 signing bonus and the prospect of near-immediate playing time. Evidently, that was enough incentive for Harper to take his talents to East Rutherford. At the time of his arrival, ex-Giants starter Corey Ballentine had just been demoted and Issac Yiadom was struggling. With uncertainty opposite Pro Bowler James Bradberry, ESPN’s Jordan Raanan proclaimed he “wouldn’t be surprised to see him [Harper] starting in a few weeks.”
Ultimately Patrick Graham’s disciple, Ryan Lewis, was the defender initially thrust into action before an injury made way for Yiadom to once again stake claim to the gig. Harper did appear in nine games with the team before being placed on injured reserve in December but logged just 39 defensive snaps prior to his knee injury.
Yet, while Raanan’s optimism towards Harper may have not come to fruition in 2020, signs out of Giants camp point towards the insider not being overly incorrect on his outlook of the cornerback, but simply a year too early.
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Harper Turned Heads This Spring
With budding familiarity in Graham’s defensive scheme and a bulked-up frame, Harper has apparently made waves in the Giants’ building this spring.
“The second-year cornerback opened some eyes this spring,” Raanan reported. “He came in bulked-up and in great shape, and took advantage of a mostly vacant defensive backfield during OTAs when most of the Giants’ cornerbacks didn’t attend. That created an opportunity Harper took advantage of this spring. After being signed off the Raiders’ practice squad early last season, Harper is one to watch this year. He has the size and skill set this coaching staff will find ways to use.”
Speaking of Harper’s skill set, here’s what SB Nation’s Alistair Corp had to say about the defender’s head-turning Pro Day leading into last year’s NFL Draft:
Had he [Harper] been invited to the combine, he would’ve ranked 5th in the forty-yard dash (4.41), 3rd in the vertical jump (40”), 3rd in the short shuttle (4.1) and 1st in the three cone (6.7) among corners. On top of his superb athleticism, he has the requisite size (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) and arm length in the 98th percentile for corners, at 33 7/8”.
Harper’s 2021 Outlook
As much as we’d like to be optimistic on the second-year pro, it’s hard to pinpoint a scenario where the Texas native works his way into a legitimate defensive role this coming season. Harper offers up raw talent on a silver platter, but the Giants’ revamped secondary will make it difficult for him to flex his budding skillset on a consistent basis.
The team made it a priority this offseason to bulk up the cornerback position. Headlined by the $39 million signing of Adoree’ Jackson, the Giants also drafted Aaron Robinson and Rodarius Williams to help solidify the group, which still contains Darnay Holmes and the aforementioned Isaac Yiadom. It’s plausible to think Harper could beat out the latter for a roster spot, but that may not be saying much, as Yiadom already appears to be on the bubble heading into training camp.
Raanan also hinted at the Giants possibly deploying Harper in different alignments to better find ways to use him. This likely means having Harper moonlight at safety, or even in the slot. While that may make sense on paper, one could argue the Giants’ safety group is even deeper than their cornerback group.
Jabrill Peppers and Logan Ryan make up one of the league’s top safety duos. Plus, former second-round pick Xavier McKinney is bound for a major role after having the majority of his rookie season cut short due to injury. In fact, the group is so deep, it’s uncertain how Julian Love — who ranked fourth in snaps amongst the secondary in 2020 — will be used this coming season, or if he’ll even truly have a role.
If one thing is for certain, head coach Joe Judge will put the best 11 players on the field, regardless of draft status or salary. If that so happens to include Harper, then so be it. Yet, chances are Harper’s best chance of making his presence felt in 2021 will be on special teams, where he logged 116 snaps a season ago.
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