Drafting Christian Harris inspires Nick Caserio, Lovie Smith hug

The Texans drafted Alabama linebacker Christian Harris in the third round, and his addition was met with emotion from general manager Nick Caserio and coach Lovie Smith.

They traded up to select him 75th overall to the Denver Broncos' selection in exchange for the No. 80 and No. 162 overall picks.

Drafting Harris was significant, especially for Smith. He and Caserio exchanged a big hug that was shown on social media after selecting Harris.

"Fit the profile in terms of what we want at linebacker," Caserio said. "I don't think anybody was more ecstatic than Lovie about that pick, but talking about a guy that's 6-foot, 225, 230 pounds, runs 4.4. Fits the profile of what we want to do defensively at that position. Kind of a unique story as well. Kind of basically didn't play linebacker until he showed up on the campus of Alabama. 

"He was on the secondary and then moved down. That's reflective of Nick's genius of how he sees the game, how he uses people, where the game is going. Trying to stop offenses like Ole Miss and trying to stop teams that spread the field, have a lot of space. You need players, in turn, that can help defend that space. I would say Christian falls into that category."

Harris' final collegiate game for legendary Alabama coach Nick Saban was arguably his best one. A former blue-chip recruit from Baton Rouge, La., Harris recorded three sacks, four tackles for a loss, and a forced fumble in the loss to Georgia in the national championship. 

Since that game and declaring early for the NFL draft the versatile sideline-to-sideline linebacker and converted safety maintained a busy schedule.

Harris visited the Texans, Washington Commanders, Buffalo Bills, Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, New York Giants, and New Orleans Saints while being requested by a total of 18 teams for visits (private meetings or virtual meetings), according to a league source. Among the teams he met with virtually: the Minnesota Vikings and Chicago Bears.

With Harris' 4.44 speed and playmaking skills, he's regarded as an extremely strong fit for coach Lovie Smith's 4-3 defense that emphasizes the importance of the linebacker position.

"I honestly fell in love with it," Harris said. "It's kind of tough because going through that whole process, like you can't pick where you go, but I knew if I were to come here, it would be the perfect fit for me."

At 6-foot, 226 pounds, Harris aced the NFL scouting combine, where he met with multiple teams, including the Pittsburgh Steelers. Additionally, he has a 9.05 Relative Athletic Score, an analytics grade comparing testing performance. Harris had a 1.53 10-yard split on his 40-yard dash and a 34 1/2 inch vertical leap.

Harris had 80 tackles last season, including 12 1/2 tackles for losses, with 5 1/2 sacks. He also had two forced fumbles and was a semifinalist for the Butkus and Lombardi awards.

The Harris selection, and the way Caserio and Smith have collaborated in the evaluation process of what appears to be a strong draft so far, was discussed late Friday night.

“He was excited, he needed a hug, I think, after that," Caserio said. "I have respect for his perspective on players. He has seen a lot of players. He has coached a lot of players. He is the head coach of the football team. He should have input. He is also very receptive to our viewpoints on players and the rationale that goes into it. That's part of the give-and-take. We're not going to agree on everything. 

"I'm not going to agree with the coaches on everything. You would have to try to create some modicum of balance and create an effort so that everybody understands, everybody hears the opinion of the other party, and then be respectful of that. In the end it's an organizational decision that we're making, and we all have to be comfortable, and then our job is to once a player comes in, do everything in our power to give that player the best opportunity to optimize his overall individual performance.”

Two seasons ago, Harris earned the starting job at Will linebacker and had 79 tackles, seven for loss, and 4 1/2 sacks with one interception. He was a freshman All-American and freshman All-Southeastern Conference selection who had 63 tackles, seven and 1/2 tackles for loss, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble.

“The mindset, competitive mindset, coming from a program where that is what we build off of, the players I played with, really helped with that,” Harris said in Indianapolis. “We had to come to practice every day and compete. It goes to show how much of a competitor I really am. I want to compete every day. That is what they can expect from me.

“The grind every single day, treat it like a business because that is what it is. You expect it to be hard. You don’t expect nothing to be easy. The competitive mindset. It has to come naturally. It is hard to coach that.”

An all-State and All-American selection who played wide receiver, cornerback, safety, outside linebacker, and returned kicks, Harris’ team won 26 consecutive games during his junior and senior years. He chose Alabama over competing scholarship offers from Auburn, Arkansas, LSU, and Texas A&M.

“A lot of those things come natural,” Harris said. “I have been playing corner since high school. My little league years I was playing safety. So a lot of things, knowing where to put my eyes and play the ball come natural. It does give me an advantage over a lot of guys because it comes natural.

“I just want them to know I am not just an inside linebacker. I have definitely developed my knowledge of the game. I know everybody’s spot. I can communicate. I can play fast. I can get guys lined up. I can be a leader on the defense.”

Harris played at Alabama with Texans second-round draft pick John Metchie III. He played 7-on-7 in Louisiana with Texans first-round draft pick and fellow Baton Rouge native Derek Stingley Jr. And he trained with Texans second-round safety Jalen Pitre at Exos.

"I've known him for a pretty long time," Harris said. "It's actually crazy that we get to team up on the same team."  "I trained with Pitre, too. We were talking about it and how it would be crazy if we were all on the same team at one point."

Aaron Wilson is a Pro Football Network reporter and analyst and a contributor to Sports Talk 790.

LSU v Alabama

Photo: Getty Images

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