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From undrafted to All-Pro: Reflecting on Chris Harris Jr.'s career in Denver


ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — He arrived in Denver in 2011 to little fanfare, an undrafted player just looking for a chance to make the Broncos' roster.

Nine years later, cornerback Chris Harris Jr. leaves the Broncos as one of the best cornerbacks in franchise history and among the team's most accomplished undrafted players.

And while his career in Denver ended this week after he reportedly agreed to terms with the Los Angeles Chargers, the legacy he will leave in Denver's defensive backfield is indelible.

It was Harris who started the "No-Fly Zone," which dominated opposing passing games for the better part of three seasons. Alongside Aqib Talib, T.J. Ward, Darian Stewart, and Bradley Roby, Harris was a key piece of a group that ranked first in passing defense in 2015 and 2016 and finished fourth in 2017.

How, though, do you best quantify the legacy of a man who is a near sure bet to wind up in the Broncos' Ring of Fame upon the conclusion of his career?

Is it through statistics and accolades?

Harris made the Pro Bowl in three consecutive seasons from 2014-16, was named a second-team All-Pro in 2015 and added a first-team All-Pro selection in 2016. Despite playing in just 12 games in 2018 because of injury, Harris added another Pro Bowl selection to his resume.

In 2019, he recorded his 20th interception to become just the 10th Bronco to reach that milestone. He finishes his Denver career tied with Ring of Famers Randy Gradishar and Tom Jackson in that category.

The Kansas product is one of just four undrafted cornerbacks in history to make at least four Pro Bowls with his original team.

An analytical review gives Harris even more credit. Pro Football Focus has ranked Harris among its top 101 players at the end of six different seasons. Among cornerbacks, they've consistently graded him at or near the top of the list.

The awards don't stop there.

He's been recognized for both his toughness, as the Broncos' 2014 Ed Block Courage Award winner, and his professionalism with the media, as the 2012 and 2018 Darrent Williams Good Guy Award winner.

But should we instead remember the big plays Harris made time and time again? Through those moments that are snapshots of a career?

There's Harris crossing the goal line in Oakland in 2015, arms spread wide as an infuriated Black Hole jeered at him.

There he is again, grabbing his second pick of the game and returning it for a touchdown in a 24-point comeback against the Chargers in 2012 on "Monday Night Football."

A diving pick against Cam Newton in a Super Bowl 50 rematch. A 98-yard pick-six against the Ravens in 2012. A shared high-five with Todd Davis as he housed another interception in 2018.

Of his 20 career interceptions, a surprisingly high number seemed to swing games in the Broncos' favor.

What if football has only so much to do with his impact on the franchise? Should we primarily celebrate that even as his star-power and name recognition grew, Harris always prioritized the Denver community?

The Broncos' 2017 Walter Payton Man of the Year has long been one of the team's most-involved players in charitable efforts.

He and his wife, Leah, started the Chris Harris Jr. Foundation in 2012 to provide underprivileged youth with unique opportunities, and he's advanced those efforts in the years since.

Harris holds an annual "Underdog Academy Football & Cheer Camp" in Tulsa, Oklahoma each year for youth athletes, and he's been a key partner for the Denver Children's Home, which helps kids who have survived trauma and neglect.

Harris' annual "Shop with a Jock" event allows children from DCH and the Salvation Army to participate in a holiday shopping spree, and his "Coats for a Cause" drive has raised hundreds of coats for families in need. Harris has participated in additional campaigns that promote healthy relationships and address domestic violence.

The former Broncos cornerback has also helped host the Denver Rescue Mission's annual holiday party for much of the previous decade.

Perhaps what makes Harris such an important player — and an impressive man — is that his legacy doesn't consist of just one of these pillars. He's never been content to thrive in just one aspect of his game or his life.

He's both a key member of the "No-Fly Zone" and #StrapHarris on his own. He can lock down opposing receivers and make game-changing plays. He's made time to advance his football career and his impact on the community.

That's a rare trait, and it's what's made it such a pleasure to watch Harris succeed at the highest level over the last several years.

And it's also what makes it so difficult to say goodbye.

A look back at Chris Harris Jr.'s Broncos career with 100 photos from the time he arrived in Denver through the 2019 season.

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