COMMENTARY | David Harris is a beloved veteran linebacker for the New York Jets who has been one of the most important players on their defense for years. For the first time last season, Harris's performance dipped noticeably, and one could easily argue that this was a big part of the Jets' failure to reach the playoffs.
A major question heading into the 2013 season is whether the 2012 performance by Harris was an aberration or whether we should expect to see more downturns in the future.
What happened in 2012?
Heading into 2012, Harris seemed like a sure thing to be a top-flight linebacker yet again. After five fantastic seasons with the Jets, including an All-Pro year in 2009, the still-young Harris was as reliable as anyone else in the NFL.
As the season dragged on, it became clear that Harris was not having the impact he once had. He was not frequently getting sacks, forced fumbles, interceptions or any of the major impact plays that used to make him special. Harrison always has been one of the best run-stoppers in the league, yet even there his play was far from perfect in 2012.
Plenty of excuses could be made. The play of the team around him was not as good as it had been in 2009, 2010 or even 2011. He had to account for the mistakes of players around him on the front seven. Perhaps most importantly, star nose tackle Sione Pouha was out for most of the year. Without Pouha, there was no one on the defensive line absorbing double-teams and creating holes for Harris to burst through.
An alternate opinion could be that Harris simply played worse in 2012 and that at this point he is somewhat overrated.
In a recent round table discussion at TurnOnTheJets.com, Harris got the majority vote as most overrated player on the Jets. This might seem like blasphemy considering how much Harris is done for the Jets over the years. But given a little more thought, it actually makes sense.
Consider first what the term overrated actually means. Overrated does not mean bad, it means highly rated but disappointing. There is a funny phenomenon in sports narratives where often players are called overrated so much that they quickly become underrated. Some obvious examples here are quarterback Mark Sanchez, wide receiver Santonio Holmes and outside linebacker Calvin Pace.
While each of those three players might have been viewed as slightly overrated in the past, they are so universally criticized at this point that they are completely out of any discussion about overrated players. Simply put, if nobody rates a player highly then he is not overrated.
On the other hand, Harris remains a favorite among Jets fans and does not receive as much of the criticism that several of his teammates currently receive.
Is It Fair?
It may seem unfair to place this title on a guy like David Harris, someone was has done so many good things for the Jets franchise in the past and who has always been a respected leader in the locker room.
Nevertheless, objectively Harris does deserve this title. In 2012, he was viewed as one of the best players on the Jets, and he did not play to that level. Hope still rides high that Harris can get back to form and again play as a top-tier linebacker. If he could accomplish this, that would be a fantastic thing for the Jets defense. Harris was a major part of why the Jets had arguably the best defense in the NFL in 2009 in 2010.
However, if Harris plays in 2013 like he did in 2012, that could be crippling for the Jets. Even in the modern pass-heavy NFL, a defense-first team needs a strong middle linebacker.
Adam Waksman is a Yahoo! contributor in sports. He also covers the New York Jets for Bleacher Report, where he is a Featured Columnist and award-winning blogger.
You can follow Adam on Twitter here.
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