Man-to-man coverage master took on opponents' top targets on his termsCliff Christl
Inducted: 2020Cornerback: 2003-09Height: 6-1; Weight: 190College: Texas A&M - Kingsville, 1995-96
Pro Bowl Selection (played 1950-2021): 2007, '08
Given that Al Harris played alongside a future Pro Football Hall of Fame cornerback for much of his time in Green Bay, it's high praise to say that he was a near perfect complement to Charles Woodson and rarely overshadowed by him.
In fact, there was debate during the four years they played together over which one was better.
An example would be what 1990s All-Decade cornerback Deion Sanders, who would be inducted into Canton two years later in his first year of eligibility, said at the end of the last season that Harris and Woodson played together. Without prompting, Sanders chose Harris over Woodson and Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets to be the second cornerback opposite Champ Bailey on his All-Decade team for the 2000s. Like Woodson, Bailey and Revis have since been elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
"Al Harris, his first Pro Bowl year was last year," Sanders said in January 2010. "Doesn't talk much. He doesn't say much. Very underrated. ... This guy over the last several years would be the best corner in the game. Only guy that took a man, the top receiver, top opposing receiver on the opposing team man-to-man each game. Flip side, the reason Charles Woodson had a rebirth from Oakland is because he went to Green Bay. He was taking a second receiver and got his confidence back. Then he was able to overtake Al and take the top receiver. That's why Charles is Charles now, but Al Harris has been the best corner over probably the last several years."
Woodson was the playmaker and Harris the shutdown cover corner of a tandem that had few, if any, peers across the NFL during their time together from 2006-09.
The Packers acquired Harris and a fourth-round draft choice from Philadelphia in 2003 for a second-round pick. Originally selected by Tampa Bay in the sixth round in 1997, Harris spent his first season there on the practice squad. The following August, the Eagles claimed him on waivers from the Buccaneers and played him mostly as a nickel back in passing situations over the next five seasons. The starters ahead of Harris that entire time were Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor. Vincent was a five-time Pro Bowl pick, and both made it in Harris' last year with the Eagles.
Generally recognized as the best nickel back in the league, Harris immediately took over as the Packers' starting right cornerback and turned out to be everything that then general manager and coach Mike Sherman expected him to be when he consummated the trade. "He's a physical defensive back that will challenge receivers...," Sherman said at the time. "And with the receivers that we play against in the division, you have to be big, you have to be aggressive. He's that type of corner."
Harris started his first 83 games with the Packers - until he missed four early in 2008 with a lacerated spleen - and fell into a routine where he confronted the opposing receiver at the line of scrimmage, even when it was zone coverage, tried to jolt him at the snap to disrupt his route and throw off the timing of the play, and then simply smother him whatever the pattern.
On one hand, Harris took that tack out of necessity. His speed was suspect, his hips not as loose as some corners; and he was often matched up against the opponent's best receiver. At the same time, he also was playing to his strengths by avoiding a foot race.
At 6-1, Harris was a tall corner blessed with strong hands. His stance - hips and shoulders parallel to the line - and techniques were consistently sound. His pre-game preparation and film study was unwavering to the point where often enough he was able to intuitively anticipate his receiver's route and react accordingly. And Harris' mindset was exactly what it needed to be for an elite corner: Play after play, he relished the challenge.
"Al always wanted their best receiver and that says a lot about the player," Lionel Washington, who coached defensive backs for the Packers from 1999-2008, said at the time.
Opposing receivers got that message in a different way. "He gets off the bus playing man-to-man coverage," 6-foot-2, 215-pound Muhsin Muhammad, who played 14 years and caught 860 career passes, once said. Roy Williams, a 6-3, 215-pound wide receiver who played nine years and caught nearly 400 passes, offered this description of Harris: "His arms drag on the floor and when he puts those arms on you, you're not going anywhere. It's really like a boxing match."
While Harris never made an all-pro team and only once in 2007 was named second team by The Associated Press, there were other receivers who rated him as highly as Sanders. "He's the best I'm going to face this season, period," Chad Johnson, Cincinnati's six-time Pro Bowl receiver said in 2005, the year he caught a career-high 97 passes. Two years later, Williams said, "I think he's the best in the league. If anyone can play press man, up in your face like a Deion Sanders type that can shut the whole field down, it's Harris."
One of the few knocks against Harris was that he lacked ball skills to make splashy plays. In seven years with the Packers, he intercepted a mere 14 passes. Then again, he was the first player in NFL history to win an overtime playoff game with a defensive touchdown. That history-making play occurred in his first postseason game with the Packers, a wild-card playoff at Lambeau Field, where he picked off quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and returned the interception 52 yards for a 33-27 victory over Seattle.
In 2009, Harris' final season with the Packers ended after 10 games when he injured his left knee. He was placed on the physically unable to perform list at the start of camp in 2010 and then waived in November when his three-week window to practice before being activated expired. He played three games with Miami late that season and nine for the St. Louis Rams in 2011. In 2013, Harris was hired as an assistant coach by Kansas City and then joined Mike McCarthy's staff in Dallas in 2020.
Harris started all of the 102 regular-season games he played in Green Bay. He also started four of five postseason games.
Given name Alshinard Harris. Born Dec. 7, 1974.