The NFL is a passing league and the need for dynamic playmakers at wide receiver has never been greater or more valuable. Teams in search of a weapon on the outside (there are many) are in luck given the crop of talent available in the 2019 NFL Draft. In TDN’s Consensus Big Board, we currently have seven wide receivers ranked among the top 40 prospects in the class with 10 in the top 50.
Among the top talents at the position in this year’s crop is NC State’s Kelvin Harmon, who currently ranks as my No. 2 receiver in the class behind DK Metcalf from Ole Miss. Harmon is an alpha wide receiver with blue chip play strength. That, combined with his impressive hands and ball skills make him a monster in contested situations. But don’t confuse his physicality, size and ability to win 50/50 balls with him not being able to run routes and separate. He has enough juice and elusive traits to uncover and get open. He is a detailed route runner that knows how to maximize his physical ability.
As I mentioned, there are plenty of talented receiving options in this years class, but what separates Harmon from the Pack is his ability to take over a football game. True No. 1, go-to receivers in the NFL are the ones that teams trust in critical situations to make plays when the team needs it most – that’s Harmon. Let’s take a look at the drive he put together before the half against Boston College last season that perfectly encapsulates his skill set and why he can be a top target at the next level.
Both NC State and Boston College started the season hot. BC entered the contest 4-1 while the Wolfpack were a perfect 4-0. Holding a 14-3 second quarter lead, NC State took over possession of the football at its own 14-yard line with 2:27 remaining in the half. NC State was able to extend that lead to 21-3 at the half, largely due to the contributions of Harmon.
After a quick completion to Jakobi Meyers and 20 yards on the ground, NC State decided it was time to be aggressive and get points before the half and dial up a target for Harmon.
Lined up just inside the numbers, Harmon manipulates the corner with an inside release to create the space needed for QB Ryan Finley to fit the ball in a long the sideline. Once the corner transitions his hips inside and Harmon gains that leverage advantage needed to get outside, Harmon perfectly clears the corners hands by swiping down with his inside arm. While it may seam subtle, using that inside hand is the correct technique to maximize his ability to beat the contact and not rob himself of mobility working up the field.
Once that outside space is established, Harmon is primed to compete for the back shoulder throw. Before we get into the incredible finish, there’s more detail to mention in why Harmon wins this rep. Look at the timing in which he attacks the football. Never tipping the balls arrival, Harmon picks it up quickly in the air while maintaining the proper tempo in his route to make sure he is in position to go get it. All of that makes it difficult for the corner to know when the ball is coming and and when to work his head around to find the ball.
From there, it’s all about elevating, body control, getting his arms extended and firmly squeezing the football. Also notice how intent he is on turning his back to the corner and getting the ball tucked into his frame after plucking the football to make sure the corner doesn’t have a chance to punch it out. Absolutely gorgeous stuff here, folks.
Later in the drive, NC State was facing a 4th and 3 situation and opted to be aggressive and go for it. In a critical moment, you can be assured Harmon would be on the receiving end of Finley’s pass.
Facing press coverage, Harmon taps into his elite play strength with a hand swipe to clear the jam and knock the corner off-balance in the process. This allows him to get the proper depth of his route beyond the sticks, work towards the sideline and finish. Notice again how he positions himself perfectly at the catch point, elevates, plucks the football tightly with his hands away form his frame and immediately looks to tuck the football away so it doesn’t get knocked loose. 1st and 10.
The very next play, Harmon is targeted again. While this rep is more about a blown coverage from Boston College, Harmon does well to adjust his route and sit in the vacated space while demonstrating excellent field awareness, concentration and body control along the sideline. Look at how he looks the ball in, the diamond formed with his hands, the squeeze of the football and how he tucks it away. I love how deliberate and natural he is at doing those important things.
While Harmon wasn’t the receiver that hauled in the touchdown reception to cap the drive, he did make it possible. Not just because of the plays he made to position NC State with a goal-to-go situation, but because his route cleared the space for Jakobi Meyers to make the play. If Harmon doesn’t win in the contact window and cross the face of the cornerback, the spacing of the play is off and it’s too congested for Finley to make a throw.
The Wolfpack went on to win the contest 28-23. Extending the lead to 18 before the end of the half was critical in NC State holding off the late surge by the Eagles. Harmon made that possible.
Harmon also hauled in a vertical shot late in the third round, to increased NC State’s lead to 28-3. While Harmon isn’t known for his speed, that doesn’t mean he can’t win vertically. His ability to track the football and adjust, combined with his play strength to keep opponents away from his frame, makes him a viable option for throws down the field. Harmon handles contact at the top of routes exceptionally well.
Boston College started chipping away at the Wolfpack lead in the fourth quarter and had NC State pinned deep in its own territory and facing a 3rd and 7. A stop and a score would have put the Eagles in position to have a chance at the end. Facing a crucial situation, it was time for NC State to dial up another play for Harmon.
This time, Boston College plays off-man coverage on Harmon after he destroyed press all game long. Harmon recognizes this and sells his route break perfectly. Accelerating quickly and smoothly out of his stance, Harmon gets a strong vertical push to make the corner think he is looking to run a deeper route. Instead, Harmon snaps around back to the football, shows Finley his numbers and again plucks the football cleanly away from his frame and uses his body to shield the defender. First Down, drive extended, time off the clock and more field for Boston College to cover in its comeback attempt.
Finishing the game with 9 receptions for 128 yards and a touchdown, Harmon took over the game with big play after big play. The crop of receivers available this year come in a variety of sizes and skill sets. But for a team primed to invest a high selection in a true alpha go-to guy, Harmon is that dude.