NFL: You Won’t Believe Erik Harris’s Wild Journey to the Raiders

Safety Erik Harris was the breakout star of this seasons’ game between the Raiders and Chargers. The Oakland Raiders wrested a tense 26-24 victory from the Los Angeles Chargers.

This win wouldn’t have happened without Harris’ amazing two interceptions. He took the second one right back to the end zone, giving the Raiders the perfect position to take the whole thing home when the clock hit zero.

It was an unbelievable performance. But it pales in comparison to the story of how Harris came to be a Raider in the first place.

Erik Harris of the Oakland Raiders reacts after a play
Erik Harris | Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

How a solid college player ended up working at a potato chip factory

Erik Harris was an above-average safety at the California University of Pennsylvania. With 231 total tackles across his four years, he was a marginal option for the 2012 NFL draft.

He fell on the wrong side of the margin. He didn’t even get invited to a single professional minicamp.

With college over and his NFL hopes dashed, Harris immediately sought work. He moved back home to New Oxford, Pennsylvania and applied for jobs, landing one with the regionally famous Utz potato chip factory. But football never left his body and mind.

He paid $80 to give the CFL’s Hamilton Wild Cats a look at his skills. They were interested in what they saw, so he moved to the area and worked part-time as a package handler. That didn’t last long. The Wild Cats signed him. Erik Harris’ professional football career finally began.

Erik Harris’ winding path to the NFL

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Harris tore up the CFL. In three years he totaled 82 tackles, three interceptions, and four sacks. Make no mistake: the CFL is a strong, competitive league filled with players extremely close to NFL-level skills. Or, in Harris’ case at the time, full-on NFL skills.

In 2016 the New Orleans Saints flew Harris down south to get a closer look at him. Within 24 hours, he was finally in the NFL.

As is often the case with players who aren’t drafted straight out of college, the Saints were tentative about putting Harris in games. He spent much of his time in New Orleans on special teams. After just four appearances in regular-season games, Harris tore his ACL.

Risky bets like CFL players several years removed from college get unusually short leashes from most front offices. Harris was no exception. His injury left him without a job.

Why the Raiders took a chance on Erik Harris

The Raiders took only four days to seize the opportunity and snatch up Harris. Of course, their enthusiasm for signing was tempered by the same hesitation to use Harris too much, too fast.

He took four defensive snaps for the entirety of the 2017 season. Oakland tested him further in 2018. Harris had to earn his place from game to game, and played in 16 that season.

His performance: 36 total tackles, and two interceptions. He was one of the best safeties in his division. All doubts officially erased. This guy was ready for the big show.

Harris’ 2019 so far shows the kind of improvement that probably has a few suits in New Orleans gritting their teeth over letting him go. At only the halfway mark of the season, he’s at 38 tackles already. And he matched his full-year interception total in a single game.

 Not everyone can simply will themselves into becoming professional football players. But those with the tools — athleticism, physical health, mindset — should take this example to heart. Erik Harris is living proof that life for NFL players does not have to begin in the NFL draft.