When Prairie View senior cornerback Jaylen Harris surveys the names of the available defensive backs in the upcoming NFL Draft he knows there are some ahead of him.
But the 5-foot-10, 180 pound Harris likes his chances because he knows few of them have done what he has done or been where he has been. Harris, who chose to forgo his bonus senior year this upcoming fall to pursue his NFL dreams, began his post-high school career at the Air Force Academy, spent three years in professional baseball with the Los Angeles Dodgers organization and has now put in four years on The Hill.
Harris has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, and in a couple of weeks will have a master’s in education, to go along his top cover skills that make him one of the best cornerbacks in the game.
“I stack myself up right there with the best of them,” Harris said recently. “Taking into account some of my other experiences I had to understand because I can play this game at a high level it doesn’t matter who I’m playing against, I’m looking for the same results every time.
“I’m looking to dominate, I’m looking to perform and it just doesn’t matter what stage or who it’s against.”
Harris, a Preseason All-American and Preseason First-Team All-SWAC honoree, is a lockdown cornerback who has excelled on and off the football field throughout his four seasons with the Panthers. But PV coach Eric Dooley believes it is the things that aren’t in the statistics that set Harris apart.
“The biggest thing I’m pleased with is this young man is going to get his masters at the end of this semester, so I thought he came in and did a good job,” Dooley said. “He showed the young men the things they are supposed to do on and off the football field.
“He brings a lot of leadership and he has a great work ethic. Everything that he does, he does a great job at it.”
In this abbreviated spring season, Harris doesn’t have numbers that jump off the page with just one interception, 10 tackles and two pass breakups to his credit in the three games the Panthers (2-1) were able to get in. But his lack of numbers may actually be more impressive.
He doesn’t get to put up more numbers because most offensive coordinators and quarterbacks know better than to throw in Harris’ direction much.
“I’m pretty sure he is upset because they don’t come to that side anymore,” Dooley said. “That’s what you like. When you aren’t getting passes thrown your way that means you are doing something great.
“But he makes plays. He understands the defense in its entirety and he understands football. He is a smart football player.”
Harris had a difficult decision to make after concerns about COVID-19 forced the SWAC to postpone its 2019 fall season until this spring. He could have allowed his three years with the Panthers stand and start preparing for the NFL Draft with the other top prospects.
Instead, Harris decided to play this spring in hopes of creating more positive game tape for NFL scouts to see. The pandemic, however, threw somewhat of a curveball into those plans with the Panthers having missed nearly a month of action due to COVID-19 stoppage and will have played just four of the six games scheduled as a result.
Harris, who did get to participate in the recent HBCU Combine in Birmingham, doesn’t have any regrets about giving up valuable NFL Draft preparation time to play with his teammates.
“Right now, you’ve just got to go out there and give it the best that you have and just hope that they understand the situation. You’ve been playing, you didn’t get to go train so this is not quite your best self,” said Harris, who recorded four interceptions and 14 pass breakups in 2019. “That’s all you can really hope for.
“Whoever really appreciates your talent enough to give you an opportunity, I believe they will. I believe they take into account all of the other things like the film and all the other stuff. They will hopefully come to the conclusion that they want to draft me.”
Dooley likes Harris’ prospects for the next level.
“I think he has a great opportunity,” said Dooley, whose team fell out of SWAC contention with Saturday’s 36-31 loss to Arkansas-Pine Bluff. “It’s been a different year for us but, I’m never going to take an opportunity from a young man. He had the opportunity to go up to the HBCU Combine and although we are in season, I thought that was important.
“He went out there and did a great job, but he still came back and played a great game on Saturday.”
Now Harris is looking forward to seeing if his name is called when the NFL Draft takes place from April 29-May 1. It’s the chance he has always dreamed about.
“It’s exciting,” Harris said. “You put in a lot of work. Just to see the possibility is there means a lot.
“You never know what is going to happen. Going to hope for the best and just adjust, like we’ve been doing, to whatever happens.”