The latest (and perhaps final) product of “D-Line U” declared for the draft on Thursday.
Missouri Tigers defensive end Charles Harris announced on Thursday that he’ll forego his final season of eligibility and enter the 2017 NFL Draft. It wasn’t exactly a surprise that the 6-foot-3, 260-pounder decided to bolt for the pros early; he’d been rumored as a potential first-rounder last season, but decided to stay for his junior year, ironically citing a desire to play with defensive tackle Harold Brantley, who missed the 2015 season with injuries sustained in a car accident but had been expected to return this season. Instead, Brantley was dismissed due to academic issues over the summer and wound up playing out his career at Division II Northwest Missouri.
After collecting seven sacks in 2015, Harris had nine sacks this season. However, those sacks were spread out over just five games this season, compared to the six games in which he collected a sack last year. Harris also had just 12 tackles for loss this season, compared to 18.5 in 2015.
Harris, who is projected to go somewhere in the first two rounds of the 2017 draft, should be the latest product of “D-Line U” (or “D-Line Zou”) to reach the NFL. Since defensive tackle Jeff Marriott was selected in the fifth round of the 2000 draft, Mizzou has had an abundance of defensive lineman reach the NFL: draftees Justin Smith, Keith Wright, C.J. Mosley, Atiyyah Ellison, Brian Smith, Stryker Sulak, Ziggy Hood, Aldon Smith, Sheldon Richardson, Michael Sam, Kony Ealy, Markus Golden, and Shane Ray, as well as notable undrafted players like Dominique Hamilton and Jacquies Smith. Both Smiths, Hood, Richardson, Ealy, Golden, and Ray have been selected in the first two rounds.
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While Harris’s value almost surely has decreased from the level it was at last winter–except, perhaps, for the teams that take comfort in knowing that he wasn’t just a “one-year wonder”–he may have recognized that he wasn’t going to improve his standing at Mizzou and decided to go for the money while he still could.
It’s been a rough year for defensive linemen at Mizzou; coach Craig Kuligowski, who was the architect of the school’s “D-Line U” reputation, was released from his duties when Barry Odom became head coach in December. After Odom hired Chris Wilson to fill that spot in December, Wilson surprisingly bolted for the Philadelphia Eagles’ defensive line coach in January, and Odom had to scramble to hire Jackie Shipp in February. After a 2016 season that saw the Tigers’ defensive line regress to a level of mediocrity that it hadn’t experienced since the mid-2000s, Shipp was fired in late November, reportedly after he had a pregame conflict with one of his players.
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It’s fair to wonder now whether Mizzou will be able to maintain its reputation as a NFL defensive lineman factory. Especially near the end of his run, Kuligowski seemed to be a major factor in players’ decisions to attend the school, thanks to the success he achieved in sending two and three-star recruits like Sam, Golden and Ray to the NFL. With such heavy turnover and a program that hasn’t been at all successful over the past two years, it’s going to be much harder for Mizzou to bring talented defensive linemen to the school, and they almost surely won’t be coached up as well as they were under Kuligowski when they ultimately arrive on campus.
Defensive tackle Terry Beckner, Jr., who just completed his true sophomore season, was one of the nation’s top recruits in 2015 and has an extremely strong chance of being an NFL player before it’s all said and done. He’s now suffered two torn ACLs since he began his career at Mizzou, though, so that may no longer be a guarantee. As the Tigers search for their fourth defensive line coach in the past 12 months, it will be interesting to see if they can find someone who even comes close to developing players into NFL talents the way Kuligowski did.