In what was a peculiar announced starting lineup change on Sunday, only looks even more peculiar now. Just hours before their kick-off yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts declared that undrafted rookie free agent center, Jonotthan Harrison, would be replacing their incumbent starting center, A.Q. Shipley, against a notoriously stingy defense in the Baltimore Ravens.
My initial reaction was why?
Shipley wasn’t injured, and in his 4 previous starts, he had played well, in fact…very well. . The advanced statistics provided by ProFootballFocus (PFF) graded him out with a +5.2 overall ranking, ranking him as the 5th best overall performing center in the NFL. That was one spot behind All-Pro Cleveland Browns’ center Alex Mack (4th), the same star player that many Colts’ fans wanted to hand a mega-contract to this offseason.
Just like in 2012, when A.Q. Shipley had played well for a then injured and underperforming starting center Samson Satele, he got benched again. Except this time, there aren’t millions of dollars and a newly hired GM’s reputation as stake.
Was it size?
Shipley comes in at a listed 6’1″ and 307 pounds, while Harrison isn’t much bigger at his listed 6’4″, 308 pounds. While the Ravens’ defensive line is pretty big featuring heavyweights like NT Brandon Williams (335 lbs) and DE Haloti Ngata (340 lbs), it doesn’t seem logical to me that Harrison’s extra 3 inches and 1 pound is going to play much of a factor, if at all.
Was it long-term potential?
At age 28 and having played for 4 different organizaitons in his 3-year NFL career, Shipley could be considered a bit of a journeyman for NFL standards. Meanwhile, at age 23, Harrison could have a brighter future in the eyes of the Colts’ brass, and with a bigger frame (6’4″ to 6’1′”), could be “a beast” as he continues to develop and get physically bigger/stronger. The Colts coaching staff and front office may be looking at a long-term center to develop with QB Andrew Luck, much like former Colts’ Pro-Bowl center, Jeff Saturday, developed with QB Peyton Manning on his backside.
It certainly wasn’t performance.
3-ill advised snaps later, and here we are. Harrison had an early snap on 3rd and 1 with 1:03 left in the first quarter, that cost the Colts an easily convertible first down. QB Andrew Luck was forced to try to sneak the ball one yard without any of his other offensive lineman blocking. It was a valiant attempt, but he didn’t convert.
He had a late snap that cost his team 5-yards in the second half, and he also had a high snap which sailed over QB Andrew Luck’s head on 1st and 10 on the Colts’ 46-yard line, who was forced to “eat it” and take the 10-yard loss with 12:43 left in the 4th quarter.
Even despite the 3 miscues, PFF still gave Jonotthan Harrison an overall grade of -2.2 in yesterday’s game, which would effectively place him as the 37th best center in the NFL. As mentioned, Shipley had been ranked 5th overall in his 4 previous starts for his performance, signifying quite a downgrade.
Perhaps, there is still hope though. The PFF advanced statistics show that while Harrison didn’t fare so well yesterday overall against the Ravens, his pass blocking grade of +1.3 would effectively place him as the 7th best pass blocking center in that regard. A pretty impressive feat for an undrafted rookie free agent center making his first start against a very talented Baltimore Ravens’ defensive front-line.
While it remains unclear as to why the Colts continue to bench Shipley despite his exceptional play as a fill-in, it does look like there is indeed some long-term potential in Jonotthan Harrison. It’s just a matter of how much the Colts are willing to continue to develop Harrison at the overall expense of the team for the here and now.