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Harriott’s senior year hurt draft value |

Harriott’s senior year hurt draft value

| Monday, April 19, 2004 12:00 a.m

Pitt defensive end Claude Harriott has a big problem with a very little word: If .

As in, if Harriott had applied for the NFL draft last year, he likely would have been a second- or third-round pick.

If he had duplicated his successful junior season, he likely would be in line for a major signing bonus today.

If he hadn’t injured his knee and ankle as a senior, the upcoming draft wouldn’t be such a mystery to him.

“Hey, I’m not going to look back on things,” said the 6-foot-4, 252-pound Harriott. “I just stay away from that stuff because it’s not going to do me any good.”

Still, Harriott occasionally reflects on what might have been.

“At this time last year, I was probably in a better position (for the draft),” he said. “But hey, I have to deal with what’s being given to me.”

Because he sputtered last fall, due in part to a lingering high ankle sprain, Harriott isn’t expected to go early in this weekend’s draft. He’s seen as a fourth- to seventh-round pick, if he’s taken at all.

Expert Mel Kiper Jr. rates Harriott as the 22nd-best defensive end in the draft and didn’t project him to be drafted in the first six rounds. The publication, NFL Draft Scout, sees him as the 10th-best end. The reviews have been mixed.

“He’s a good player, but not a great one,” said Gil Brandt, the former player personnel director with the Dallas Cowboys and a scouting expert for “He’s a hard-trying guy. He just didn’t have the type of year last season as he had his junior year.”

Therein lies the problem for Harriott. As Pitt’s primary pass-rusher last season, he managed just two sacks for minus-11 yards. He also had just seven tackles for losses and finished 16th on the team in tackles with 35.

His efforts went unrecognized by the Big East Conference in 2003, just a year after Harriott earned first-team all-league honors following a junior campaign that saw him accumulate 9 1/2 sacks, 21 tackles for losses and 78 tackles overall. He was considered one of the top defensive ends in the nation in 2002.

“It was a big drop-off — for sure,” Brandt said.

To illustrate how much Harriott dropped off in 2003, consider he had as many sacks in the Panthers’ 2002 bowl victory over Oregon State as he did his entire senior year. Moreover, his four tackles for losses in that game represented more than half of his 2003 total.

His struggles began when he hyper-extended his knee in spring drills leading to his senior season. Further compounding the issue was a high ankle sprain, which he sustained in Week 4 against Texas A&M. Harriott said the knee didn’t bother him last fall, but the ankle made him feel as though he was playing on one leg.

“A lot of my game is speed, and I could never get a good jump off the line,” said Harriott, who rarely showed the ability to defeat a double-team and still must prove he can stop the run. “It was a tough experience.”

Harriott and his agent, Peter Schaffer, hope NFL teams judge him based on the success he had his junior season.

“The way we look at it is, senior year Claude is dead,” Schaffer said of Harriott, who could be switched to outside linebacker. “Junior year Claude is the guy they’ll be getting.”

Somebody could take a chance on Harriott because he’s fast (4.7 seconds in the 40-yard dash), athletic (30-inch vertical jump) and highly regarded as a person. But he also could be seen as a one-year wonder who may never get back to his old form.

“I’ve told the people in the NFL that my ankle injury was a thorn in my side all last year,” Harriott said. “The real me was the guy they saw as a junior. I hope they accepted that. But I feel that whenever I get drafted, it will be a blessing. I grew up waiting for a chance like this, and now it might be here. I’m just grateful teams would even consider drafting me at all.”

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