49ers Marcell Harris needs to impress in training camp to stay on roster

Marcell Harris #36 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images)
Marcell Harris #36 of the San Francisco 49ers (Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images) /

49ers safety Marcell Harris must impress to make the final 53 man roster in 2020.

After a season to remember for the San Francisco 49ers, it was also a season that exposed a few players, in both a positive and negative light.

Marcell Harris, the Niners reserve strong safety, played in a starting role for four games during the 2019 regular season, filling in for the injured Jaquiski Tartt, and was exposed by opponents’ offenses in both the run and passing games.

However, it was not all doom and gloom when Harris was on the field, as Harris made this eye-catching play against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 13 and forced quarterback Lamar Jackson’s first fumble of the season:

With the emergence and improvement of fellow defensive back Tarvarius Moore, and the signing of the undrafted free agent, Jared Mayden, the 2020 context means the pressure is all on Harris to perform to a higher, more consistent level throughout training camp and preseason.

49ers S Marcell Harris: Play against the run

After that spectacular play against the Ravens, Harris was impressive against the run, as the Niners defense gave up 15.7 yards less per game with Harris on the field.

Harris forced more fumbles (three) compared to Tartt (one) but only recovered one fumble, which was one less than Tartt recovered (two).

However, the one area Harris struggled with most in the run game and in the open field was tackling. In the four games Harris started, he missed seven tackles, meaning he had a missed-tackle percentage of 14.9. Tartt played eight more games than Harris and only missed four tackles, which gave Tartt a missed-tackle percentage of 7.7.

Overall, the run game was where Harris excelled and played his best football, even though his tackling was extremely poor.

49ers S Marcell Harris: Play against the pass

It’s easy to see why Harris is seen by many as a “box safety,” his numbers in pass coverage do not make for pretty viewing. This is the one area where the 49ers badly missed Tartt, and pass coverage could be Harris’ downfall if he does not impress during training camp.

Week 14 was a difficult day for Harris as he was at fault for two of the New Orleans Saints’ touchdowns. Harris missed a tackle on Saints tight end Jared Cook and was caught over-pursuing the run, leaving fellow Saints tight end Josh Hill wide open in the flats for an easy touchdown:

Poor pass coverage was a constant theme in the four games in which Harris started. Harris gave up a passer rating of 118.5 compared to a 66.8 passer rating when quarterbacks targetted Tartt. Harris also had a worse completion percentage allowed, 58.8, than Tartt who only allowed QBs a completion percentage of 43.5.

However, Harris did more than double Tartt’s number of passes defended with five, while Tartt only made a play on two passes.

The 49ers defense as a whole suffered massively when Harris filled in for Tartt. The defense averaged 274 passing yards a game with Harris, while this number plummeted to a measly 134.25 yards a game with Tartt out on the field.

With the emergence of Moore, is it crazy to think he could replace Tartt if Tartt is injured again in 2020? After all, Moore did get one of the two interceptions in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs, and Moore should’ve had another pick in Week 1 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Mayden is another wild card in this situation. 49ers defensive coordinator Robert Saleh has stated the safeties need to be interchangeable and having two backup safeties on the roster who excel in the passing game, especially considering the ability of the team’s linebackers in both coverages and against the run, paired with an increased amount of flexibility in the defensive backfield, could leave Harris on the outside looking in.

Overall, the 49ers defense took a step back when Harris was on the field. With the direction the league is moving in towards more 12 personnel, it will be crucial to have two safeties who are both above average in pass coverage and against the run.

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With Harris struggling to make tackles consistently, along with inconsistencies in coverage, the third-year pro could be the odd man out.