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'Versatility' adds to ECU's Harris increasing draft stock

by | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst
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After Conference USA's 2009 Special Teams Player of the Year, East Carolina receiver Dwayne Harris, secures a kickoff, just one thing crosses his mind: Score.

He did that three times in 2009 -- against conference foes SMU, Rice and UAB -- reaching exactly 1,000 total yards for the season and finishing 19th in the Football Bowl Subdivision by averaging 27.0 yards per return.

Dwayne Harris, a wide receiver, has shown he's well-rounded by running the Wildcat. (US Presswire)  
Dwayne Harris, a wide receiver, has shown he's well-rounded by running the Wildcat. (US Presswire)  
There's no big secret about his mental approach to the return. He admits that "sometimes I don't even know what I'm going to do. I let my instincts take over and I get in the end zone."

Harris is a potential top-100 pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, but not just because of his special-teams ability. He was a first-team all-conference receiver as a junior, leading the Pirates in receiving with 83 catches for 978 yards and seven touchdowns. It was the second straight year he was ECU's leading pass-catcher, grabbing 58 passes for 654 yards and a score in 2008.

Talking during Conference USA Media Days, he stated that what scouts will like best about him is "versatility. I can do a lot of things -- play Wildcat, inside receiver, outside receiver, return kicks, punt returns, special teams ... I can bring a lot of things to the table."

Harris is a tough runner, willing to lower his shoulder to run over a cornerback or safety just as eagerly as he would make a quick move to cut against the grain in the open field. Harris likes to "keep defenses off guard -- you can't do too much shaking-and-baking."

He not only runs with toughness but has proven willing to mix it up as a blocker. His strong build and aggressive attitude make him capable of doing more than getting in the way of cornerbacks on the edge.

The Pirates ran the Wildcat formation with Harris, a former high school quarterback, under former coach Skip Holtz. He ended up running for 149 yards and five touchdowns, as he was used regularly in the red zone. It's not clear whether new coach Ruffin McNeill will continue to use the offensive set, but NFL teams will find his skills useful in similar formations.

Harris believes he would fit best as a receiver in the NFL. It would be no surprise if teams wanted Harris to line up as a running back because his hard running style and compact build are reminiscent of former ECU all-purpose star and reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year Chris Johnson.

Johnson doesn't get back to Greenville very often, but Harris talks to him occasionally and "watches the progress of [Johnson's] NFL career" and tries to emulate his game "as much as possible -- maybe not the speed, but everything else."

Harris' straight-line speed is not elite (4.52, 40). His 5-foot-10-inch frame might also make it difficult for him to make plays against pro cornerbacks outside. He's a bit raw in his routes but he has the quick feet to excel with additional repetitions, and his hands are inconsistent. Harris will extend to make some spectacular grabs but he occasionally loses concentration on shorter passes when trying to make a play before securing the ball.

The rising senior believes he will get more chances downfield this season to "show I can run all of the routes." His mediocre 11.6 yards-per-reception average over the past two years is an indication of the short routes and quick screens he has typically run. He also believes he has "pretty good hands" and will have another year to prove to scouts he can be patient through the catch and hang tight when hearing footsteps of faster, stronger NFL defenders.

The Stone Mountain, Ga., native says the NFL is "in the back of my mind," but from the way he talks about the locker room camaraderie and how he will miss "the guys" when he's gone, there's little doubt he intends to enjoy his final year with the Pirates. He has some strong goals for his senior season: "go out with a big bang, help my team win a conference championship, and win the Liberty Bowl [where the C-USA champion receives an automatic bid]."

In a draft where senior receiver talent is expected to be a bit thin, Harris' ability to help his team reach those goals with his stellar all-around game will also boost his draft stock.

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