Charles Harris’ decision to leave Missouri early for the 2017 NFL Draft was validated Thursday when he was picked No. 22 overall by Miami.
“I’m literally not functioning right now,” Harris said to laughter on a teleconference with Dolphins media shortly after the selection. “It’s a blessing. It’s an honor.”
It’s also a starting point and not a destination.
“It (doesn’t) mean a thing, because I still know what I’ve got to do,” Harris continued. “I’ve got to take advantage of this — being a first-round pick.”
Harris, a defensive end who graduated from Lincoln College Preparatory Academy, is the Tigers’ 19th first-round pick.
He’s also the latest in Mizzou’s D-Line Zou pipeline, which has produced seven defensive linemen chosen among the top 60 picks since 2009.
The development Thursday cement a place for Harris alongside Ziggy Hood (selected 32nd in 2009), Aldon Smith (seventh, 2011), Sheldon Richardson (13th, 2013), Kony Ealy (60th, 2014), Markus Golden (58th, 2015) and Shane Ray (23rd, 2015).
Of course, Harris isn’t satisfied with merely joining such elite company.
“No matter when I would’ve got drafted, I’m going to come into the league and I’m going to dominate,” he said. “I don’t have the same mindset as everybody else. I’m not trying to just make it there, I’m trying to get there, stay there, dominate, feed my family — everything, for real.”
As the No. 22 pick, Harris will sign a four-year rookie contract worth $10,875,220, including a $6,026,859 signing bonus.
He joins a group of edge rushers in Miami that includes Cameron Wake, who tied for sixth in the NFL with 11 1/2 sacks last season.
“It means everything, to be able to come in and learn from him,” Harris said of the five-time Pro Bowler. “I’m just coming in with a humble attitude, willing to work, willing to take coaching from any and everybody.”
Using his signature spin move and a lightning-quick first step, Harris posted 16 sacks and 30 1/2 tackles for loss during the last two seasons in Columbia.
He finished second in the Southeastern Conference with 18 1/2 tackles for loss as a sophomore in 2015 — finishing one behind Thursday’s No. 1 overall pick Myles Garrett of Texas A&M, while playing one fewer game.
Harris’ junior-year production — nine sacks and 12 tackles for loss — was tamped down by an offseason scheme change, which required him read two-gap in a read-and-react system during the first half of the 2016 season.
Mizzou scrapped that system and unshackled its defensive line midway through the season, freeing up Harris and the rest of the front four to get up field. He finished the season with 7 1/2 tackles for loss in the final six games, including 5 1/2 sacks in the final four games.
The story of how Harris, who also was a basketball star in high school, was goaded into playing football when classmates chided him as too scared to step on the gridiron is part of Lincoln Prep lore.
He became a signing-day surprise by Missouri in 2013 after assistant coach Andy Hill convinced then-head coach Gary Pinkel to gamble that Harris’ frame and athleticism would translate to the SEC under the proper tutelage.
Rivals didn’t even have a recruiting page for Harris, who was eventually listed as a two-star weakside defensive end in a profile with no picture that listed only one offer.
“A lot of people doubted me, and I love that,” Harris said.
Now, Harris is on the brink of signing a multi-million contract to chase quarterbacks in NFL stadiums, completing a rise from supremely athletic-but-unheralded hidden gem to one of the most-respected players in one of the deepest class of edge rushers in any draft.
“Pass rushing isn’t like other positions like (defensive backs), receivers and quarterbacks where you have to learn shifts and other stuff,” he said. “At the end of the day, it’s about what you’ve got in your heart. That’s what I’ve got. I’ve got heart. I’ve got a drive that’s nasty. I’m just trying to ball at the end of the day. I’m going to get to the quarterback without a doubt.”
Harris was the fifth pass-rush specialist taken behind Garrett, who went to the Browns, Stanford’s Solomon Thomas (third, San Francisco), Temple’s Haason Reddick (13th, Arizona) and Tennessee’s Derek Barnett (14th, Philadelphia).
Harris, an underrated and rangy defender against the run with solid ability at the point of attack, totaled 117 tackles during the last two seasons.
His 4.88-tackle average per game during that span is better than Barnett (4.81), Reddick (4.11), Garrett (4.0), UCLA’s Takkarist McKinley (4.0) and Thomas (3.77).
Mizzou first-round NFL draft picks
Overall pick (Year) Pos. Player, NFL team
4 (1968) T Russ Washington, San Diego
4 (2001) DE Justin Smith, Cincinnati
7 (2011) DE Aldon Smith, San Francisco
8 (1946) RB Bill Dellastatious, Detroit
10 (1966) T Francis Peay, New York Giants
10 (2011) QB Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville
11 (1971) RB Joe Moore, Chicago
11 (1977) T Morris Towns, Houston
13 (1979) TE Kellen Winslow, San Diego
13 (2013) DT Sheldon Richardson, New York Jets
15 (1987) T John Clay, Los Angeles Raiders
19 (1969) DB Roger Wehrli, St. Louis Cardinals
19 (1977) QB Steve Pisarkiewicz, St. Louis Cardinals
19 (2009) WR Jeremy Maclin, Philadelphia
19 (2010) LB Sean Weatherspoon, Atlanta
22 (2017) DE Charles Harris, Miami
23 (2015) DE Shane Ray, Denver
26 (1981) G Howard Richards, Dallas
32 (2009) DT Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh