Oklahoma safety Nic Harris was viewed as a linebacker by some NFL talent evaluators and a safety by others. The Bills see him as a linebacker and that’s where he’ll play after the Bills made him their fifth-round pick (#147) on Sunday.
“He’s a linebacker for us,” said Bills scout Shawn Heinlen. “He’s a very versatile player. He’s played safety, corner and started at middle linebacker in an emergency role against Kansas State. He played outside linebacker at the Senior Bowl and I think that’s where we see him best fitted for our defense.”
For Harris, who has played cornerback, free safety, strong safety and linebacker in college, moving to linebacker full time is not seen as a problem.
“It’s doesn’t bother me at all,” said Harris. “It’s a great opportunity to come out and play and whatever the coaches want me to do I’m willing to take a shot at it. I’m extremely elated for the opportunity to come out and play.”
Playing safety Harris has been playing at a lighter weight to maintain his speed, but now shifting to linebacker the Bills will have him bulk up to about 240 pounds. The Bills had Harris timed in the 4.6 to 4.7 range, but his anticipation skills are so sharp he gets to the ball quickly regardless.
“A very, very smart player,” said Heinlen. “Whatever position he played he was always the first open to diagnose what was going on and that allows him to play faster than his timed speed. At the Senior Bowl he was playing outside linebacker for the first time and he was the first guy to the ball every single play. That intelligence is something that we’re really looking for.”
What also encourages Buffalo’s staff that the switch will be relatively smooth is the fact that Harris is an aggressive tackler that’s played closer to the line of scrimmage before.
“One of the first things we did in pre-screenings that we put on a safety in judging whether they can play linebacker is how he enters plays,” said Bills linebackers coach Matt Sheldon. “He tackles with a good tackling form with his face up. He really likes to deliver a blow.”
That hitting ability is shown in his turnover statistics as he six forced fumbles and seven interceptions in his college career. Harris also had 20 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks in his time at Oklahoma.
Harris realizes another position change lies ahead, but he’s confident he can make it work.
“Ultimately my preference is to be on the field,” said Harris. “I can’t wait to get out and play.”