Following three seasons with the University of Florida Gators, defensive end Derrick Harvey likely will be one of the first five defensive ends chosen in the 2008 NFL Draft. Both on the field, as well as at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine, Harvey has displayed a rare combination of speed, strength and length. He has also performed well in high-stakes contests: In the 2007 Tostitos BCS National Championship game, he amassed 3.0 sacks in Florida's 41-14 destruction of Ohio State and 2.0 against the University of Michigan in the 2008 Capital One Bowl.
Harvey did not play organized football until his junior year of high school. He learned quickly, though: In his senior year, in 2003, at Eleanor Roosevelt High School in Greenbelt, Md., he set a state record with 31 sacks and led his team to the Class 4A state semifinals.
The University of Florida won a major recruiting battle for Harvey's services. Still, Harvey was forced to redshirt in 2004: He was at the bottom of an impressive depth chart including future pros such as defensive linemen Jarvis Moss, Ray McDonald, Marcus Thomas and Joe Cohen. Harvey remained a backup in his freshman season, 2005. He played limited minutes in nine games, spelling Moss and McDonald. He totaled only one sack and four solo tackles.
However, Harvey came alive as a sophomore in 2006, recording 24 solo tackles, 13 stops for losses and a whopping 11.0 sacks. He racked up these numbers despite starting only five games (when McDonald was injured). The season culminated with Florida's national championship and Harvey's lights-out performance in the title game. Florida finished 13-1, and Harvey earned second-team All-Southeastern Conference honors.
In 2007, Harvey finally became a starter. He finished the season with 8.5 sacks, 31 solo tackles and 17 stops for losses. Florida finished 9-4, and Harvey garnered All-American third team honors as well as All-SEC second team honors. After his strong performance against Long in the Capital One Bowl, Harvey announced he was entering the draft. He finished his Florida career with 20.5 sacks in 18 starts (36 total games). He also totaled 31 stops for losses, 59 solo tackles (90 total), 11 quarterback pressures, and six pass deflections. These numbers, combined with his big-game showings, positioned Harvey as the prototypical edge-rushing prospect, a defensive end with the speed to get by offensive tackles yet the strength to remain sturdy against the run.
Harvey's college statistics are unassailable. His 20.5 sacks in 18 starts on two winning Florida teams against tough competition - along with his 5.0 sacks in his final two bowl games - is a track record that no NFL scout can minimize. In addition, Harvey has never missed a game because of injury, and he has no off-the-field issues.
Moreover, Harvey buttressed his impressive on-field performance with a stellar showing at the combine. To begin with, Harvey - who stands 6-foot-5 and has an 82-inch wingspan - weighed in at 271 pounds. That was enough to quell skeptics that projected Harvey - who weighed around 260 in college - as a convert to outside linebacker.
However, questions remained about whether Harvey - with an extra 11 pounds on his frame - could still move like a gazelle. Harvey promptly disproved his skeptics by running the three-cone drill in 7.27 seconds and the 20-yard shuttle in 4.36 seconds. In both cases, Harvey finished in the top 10 among defensive lineman. What made his display of agility so astonishing was that Harvey also cracked the top 10 in the bench press drill, lifting 225 pounds 31 times. There were only two other defensive line prospects who, like Harvey, cracked the top 10 in the bench press, the 20-yard shuttle and the three-cone drill: Ohio State defensive end Vernon Gholston and University of Southern California defensive end Lawrence Jackson.
Will his strength and quickness translate to the pro game? Harvey's burst off the snap and ability to change directions should certainly carry over. While Harvey's bench press strength hardly guarantees that he'll be stout against the run, it is worth noting that he did more repetitions in the bench press than did Virginia defensive end Chris Long, who weighs 266 and is projected to be the first defensive end chosen.
One obvious comparison player for Harvey is Florida alum and former Philadelphia Eagles defensive end Javon Kearse: a long-armed speed-rusher with enough heft to play at the line of scrimmage. Another likeness is Dallas Cowboys defensive end-outside linebacker Greg Ellis, who stands 6-foot-6 and excels at generating an edge rush. Ellis is also a capable pass defender when dropping back in zone coverage, a skill that Harvey, too, honed in college because of how much zone the Gators play.
One reason why Long and some other defensive ends rank ahead of Harvey is because Harvey lacks positional versatility. Yes, Harvey has the build and skill to achieve in a 4-3 defense, where he'll be matched one-on-one on the outside of an offensive tackle. However, Harvey has never shown the ability to play the 3-4 scheme, in which his role would be controlling two gaps and playing closer to the interior or move to outside linebacker.
Harvey's lack of a track record in the 3-4, combined with his slender frame, make him a risky prospect for teams employing a 3-4. There's a chance that Harvey could become an outside linebacker in a 3-4, like Ellis on the Cowboys. Still, this would involve his learning a new position entirely, and all of his experience playing zone at Florida will only help him with one portion of the immense transition.
There's also reason to doubt that Harvey can make an immediate impact. His former teammate, defensive end Jarvis Moss recorded 15 career sacks at Florida, was drafted 17th overall by the Denver Broncos last year. As a rookie, playing in a 4-3 scheme, Moss recorded seven solo tackles and one sack in six games before landing on Injured Reserve (broken ankle). That's not to suggest Moss is a bust. However, Moss' limited success as a rookie indicates that Harvey, for all his talent, may need one year of seasoning, so certain teams might think twice before investing first-round dollars on a player that can't contribute from Day 1.
Expected Draft Placement
Few dispute that Long and Gholston will be the first two defensive ends chosen. The question is whether Harvey will be next or whether he'll slip behind Jackson, Clemson defensive end Phillip Merling or University of Miami (Fla.) defensive end Calais Campbell. Neither Merling nor Campbell approaches Harvey's athleticism or upside as a pass rusher, but both are safer bets to become sturdy run-stoppers in a 3-4 scheme.
The Carolina Panthers, selecting 13th, may be the first team to consider Harvey. They play a 4-3 defense, and their starting right defensive end, Mike Rucker, is a 33-year-old free agent who only had three sacks in 16 games. Their starting left defensive end, Julius Peppers, only had two sacks in 14 games and is slated to earn $6.5 million. If Harvey doesn't go to the Panthers with the 13th pick, it's conceivable he could go 15th to the Detroit Lions or 16th to the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams employ a 4-3 and have serious needs at defensive end. He could slide to the Minnesota Vikings at No. 17, a team desperate for a pass-rushing end.
What's the lowest Harvey might go? It's hard to imagine him falling past the Jacksonville Jaguars with the 26th pick. Jaguars Head Coach Jack Del Rio recently praised Harvey in recent published reports. The Jaguars play a 4-3, and they also have some age at defensive end, with starter Paul Spicer turning 33 this summer. Spicer led the Jaguars with 7.5 sacks. The other starting defensive end, Bobby McCray, a free agent, signed with the New Orleans Saints.