When NFL scouts are evaluating a prospect, they want to see what skill set a player possess that can translate to the professional game. Intangibles such as height, weight, and speed are important in the evaluation, but sometimes a player can impress a scout by passing the “Eye Test.” The Eye Test or the “6 Play Test” in which a scout can see that a player has the ability to play in the NFL by seeing just a few impact plays either during practice or in games. Wide receiver Dwayne Harris passed the test for me and many Dallas Cowboy fans this season with his play at the end of the season.
Dec 16, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) is tackled by Pittsburgh Steelers safety Ryan Clark (25) during the second half of the game at Cowboys Stadium. The Cowboys won 27-24 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The biggest positional battle going into the 2012 season for the Cowboys was not solved by the end of training camp or early in the season for that matter. Kevin Ogletree, Andre Holmes, Danny Coale, Cole Beasley and Dwayne Harris were all battling for the third wide receiver job after Laurent Robinson left for Jacksonville via Free Agency after his surprising 2011 campaign. After Robinson recorded 858 yards receiving to go along with 11 TDs, there were big shoes that needed to be filled for the Dallas offense to succeed.
Dwayne Harris was not the favorite to take the job in his second year as a pro. And even after his outstanding preseason in which Harris shined against the St. Louis Rams in the tune-up game, he failed to lock down the third wide receiver job when head coach Jason Garrett decided to go with the veteran Kevin Ogletree. Even worse, Ogletree’s big night in New York on opening day made Harris’ future role within Dallas’ offense look dim. However, Dwayne Harris would not go away.
Sometimes, stats lie. Looking back on Harris’ season he only registered 222 yards receiving on 17 catches, but his impact far out-weighted his stats. Harris made his first game changing play in Week 10 when the Dallas Cowboys traveled to the Philadelphia Eagles to try and save their season. At 3-5, a loss would be devastating for a team attempting to make a run for a playoff bid. Fast-forward to the fourth quarter where the game was tied 17-17. The Cowboys forced rookie quarterback Nick Foles (who replaced an injured Michael Vick during the game) into an errant pass on 3rd down.
To start the season the team used the talented Dez Bryant as their primary punt returner. But after fumbling a punt against Chicago and not being fully healthy, the Cowboys were forced to find a new return man. Back to the game, former Cowboys punter Matt McBriar booted the ball 49 yards, down to the Dallas 22 yard line. Harris proceeded to take the punt 78 yards down the left sideline to give Dallas the lead and eventually the win. Dwayne Harris influenced the game by not only scoring, but also shifting the momentum; a stat that does not show up in the final box scores.
Nov 22, 2012; Arlington, TX, USA; Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Dwayne Harris (17) runs after making a catch during the game against the Washington Redskins on Thanksgiving at Cowboys Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
Harris’ second impact play came against the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 15. Again, Dallas was tied up in the second half and after a Lawrence Timmons sack on Tony Romo on first down, Dallas was losing momentum. On second and 23, Head Coach Jason Garrett ran a screen play for Dwayne Harris to try to gain just a few yards to make it a more manageable third down. Instead, Harris took the bubble screen 18 yards on a brilliant run after the catch that ignited the Cowboys’ crowd and the offense. Dallas converted the third and short and shortly after took the lead on a Dez Bryant touchdown.
Why am I highlighting these few plays in what turned out to be an unsuccessful run at the playoffs? Because I believe Dallas has found a playmaker at the wide receiver position and another weapon Jason Garrett and Tony Romo can add to their arsenal.
Dwayne Harris’ size and skill set reminds me of Minnesota Vikings playmaker Percy Harvin with his ability to make plays after the catch with his strong lower body. Harris isn’t exceptionally fast like Harvin, running only 4.55 40 yard dash, but he is an explosive quick-twitch athlete that excels in short areas. As he continues to develop as a wide receiver, look for Dwayne Harris to make more of impact as a playmaker for the Cowboys in 2013.