With a mere 11 seconds to play between the Denver Broncos and Oakland Raiders, the hometown Broncos saw their lead nearly slip away as Derek Carr connected with Hunter Renfrow for a touchdown.
The Broncos, who led all game long, saw their once 13-point advantage shrink over the second half of their 2019 season finale. Then, Jon Gruden decided to go for a 2-point conversion, to try to give the city of Oakland a victory in the Raiders last game associated with the city.
Gruden’s gutsy call didn’t work out, though, because Shelby Harris was there.
Call him the Dikembe Mutombo of the NFL; Harris is the best pass-blocker in the league this year.
On Oakland’s 2-point conversion attempt, a second straight pass to Renfrow, Harris put his giant mitt up and in the way of the throw, basically ending the Raiders’ hopes of winning.
“You knew it was going to be a quick pass, and it was going to be pretty tough to get a sack on him, so the next best thing is knock the ball down,” Harris explained. “Great coverage…It’s a team thing. Great final play.”
“The 2-point conversion, I understand going for it, but that’s just what happens,” Harris said of the Broncos’ No. 1 red zone defense in the NFL.
That play basically secured the Broncos victory and he said it was the second-best play in his career to the interception off Ben Roethlisberger last year, which happened in the end zone and help the Broncos keep their playoff hopes alive. And the blocked field goal to beat the Chargers his third-best play, he reminisced when thinking back to his career in Denver.
This year, Harris came into the final game with 8 passes defensed, and left with 10, the league-leader for a defensive lineman by far.
Earlier in the fourth quarter, he ended another play of the Raiders by getting his hand on the ball, batting it to the ground.
So, how does Harris do so well at blocking passes at the line of scrimmage?
“Well, little known fact, I’m high school basketball’s all-time leader for blocked shots,” Harris explained to Zach Segars of Mile High Sports Sunday night. “Hey, look it up!” he yelled to a likely disbelieving teammate.
“I feel like it’s a timing thing,” Harris continued seriously about his ability to knock down passes at the line. “When you’re that close to the quarterback, you can see his eyes and see where he’s throwing the ball.”
So, will the Broncos continue to have the best pass-blocker in the NFL next year?
“I love it here,” Harris explained. “I love what this team is building. I love all my teammates, except Mike Purcell (laughs)…It’s been a great time, an amazing time and I hope it doesn’t end.”
Harris has to be among the top players on a long list of 29 free agents in which the Broncos have to decide to re-sign or let go. Really, the only player who has an argument to be signed before Harris is Justin Simmons, who enjoyed a breakout season this year.
If the Broncos are smart, they’ll be bringing back both Harris and Simmons as the first and second free agents signed. Because not only does Harris have 17 total passes defensed in three seasons, but 13 sacks as well.
He’s one of the most underrated interior defensive linemen in the NFL and helps give the Broncos a more dynamic defense. And if Derek Wolfe leaves, having a stalwart veteran like Harris in the middle is key.