ENGLEWOOD – Chris Harris Jr. is cursed by his own skill set.
He would prefer to play on the outside at cornerback, but he happens to be the league’s best slot defensive back of the past five years or so.
And so, until this year, whenever the Broncos brought in a third cornerback, it was Harris who moved inside. Bradley Roby came off the bench as the No. 3 cornerback and played right outside corner. Aqib Talib stayed at left outside corner.
Harris moved inside to cover the slot receiver. Smart, quick, instinctive, competitive and strong, Harris made first team All Pro primarily because of his superb inside play in 2016.
This year, with the departure of Talib and No. 3 newcomer Adam Jones familiar with the slot position, Harris is playing considerably more outside corner.
“I like being on the outside because that’s where I can get more picks,’’ he said in a sit-down interview with 9NEWS this week. “I can read the quarterback more, I can use my coverage skills a lot more. I just think I can make more plays.
“In the slot, I’m always with my back to the quarterback, I’m man to man most of the time, I can’t see where the ball’s going. So, it’s hard to make those plays. That’s really the only reason why the outside is better. The outside should have way more picks than the slot.’’
Harris has been the caulk in a Broncos’ secondary that otherwise has sprung some leaks. Denver ranks No. 22 in opposing pass efficiency with a 102.2 rating that is bolstered by a 69.5 completion percentage.
And here come the Kansas City Chiefs and quarterback Patrick Mahomes, whose 137.4 passer rating leads the NFL.
“He’s definitely the real deal,’’ Harris said. “Their offense – not just him, everything that they do. (Head coach) Andy Reid, he has so much misdirection and it’s so much like a college offense. The way they use Tyreek Hill with the Jet motion, give him sweeps, running back, putting him at receiver, he’s all over the field.
“It’s their offense as a whole, but Mahomes, he’s definitely getting into his playmakers’ hands.’’
The Broncos, meanwhile, are adjusting to having back-to-back, third-round cornerbacks – Brendan Langley and Isaac Yiadom – not being quite ready for significant roles. The Broncos improvised by bringing in two, 30-something veterans, Adam Jones and Tramaine Brock, to fill in.
Jones and Brock, though, have already been hampered by leg muscle strains, forcing Yiadom to play, ready or not. And Roby, who is adjusting to his promotion from No. 3 corner, where he played about 50 percent of the time, to No. 2, where he is playing nearly 100 percent, stayed long after practice Saturday to work on technique with defensive coordinator Joe Woods.
“We’re trying to get some consistency at corners,’’ Harris said. “It’s hard going out there and playing when this week I’ve got Pacman (Jones), next week I’ve got T-Brock and then I’ve got Isaac – I don’t know who’s going to be out there with me.
“We’ve got to get that chemistry down. I think that’s what’s really delaying the secondary, we don’t have that continuity with some consistency at the cornerback position.’’
It’s a scary predicament, especially when Mahomes has begun his first season as a starting quarterback with 13 touchdown passes against 0 interceptions in the Chiefs’ 3-0 start.
“I’ve seen him roll to the right and throw a post to the opposite hash off one leg,’’ Harris aid. “I mean he can make all the throws and he’s gutsy, man. He will throw it in triple coverage, double coverage because he believes his guys can get the ball. Those are the times when we’ve got to make him pay.
“If you’re a safety you would love to play Mahomes because he’s going to give you a chance, he’s going to test you in the middle of the field to see how good you are at the safety position. If I’m a safety I’m licking my chops, for sure.’’
After the Broncos dominated the AFC West from 2011 through 2015, the Chiefs assumed control really starting with the second-half of the 2015 season. They have won five in a row from the Broncos, including the past three games played in Denver.
Still, is Harris surprised his Broncos are 4.5-point underdogs at home Monday night to the Chiefs?
“Oh no, I’m not surprised,’’ he said. “Those guys are hot. They’ve owned the division the last two years, so I’m not surprised at all. We’ve got to get that turned around. That’s our main goal is to get that mind control back in the division like we’ve had, and this is a good test right here.’’
“It’s must-win for sure. In my eyes. When you’re at home it’s automatically must win. On top of that, division game.’’