IRVING, Texas -- Go ahead, try to find a special-teams player who has made a bigger impact than Dwayne Harris this season.
Statistically speaking, Harris has been the NFL’s best return man through six weeks this season. He leads the NFL in punt returns (23.6 yards per return) and kickoff returns (34.7). Denver’s Trindon Holliday and Kansas City’s Quintin Demps have slightly higher kickoff-return averages but not enough returns to rank among qualifiers.
Harris also excels as a gunner. The Cowboys' coaches have credited him with seven special-teams tackles, which leads the team.
“I look at myself as a football player,” Harris said. “I do everything. Whatever Coach wants me to do, whatever this team wants me to do, that’s what I do.”
Harris ran into the spotlight with a pair of spectacular returns in Dallas' win over the Washington Redskins on Sunday night. He took a punt 86 yards to the house and set up another touchdown with a 90-yard kickoff return.
Those returns, plus Harris' tackle of Washington punt returner Josh Morgan that dropped him for a loss, earned Harris the coveted pair of boxing gloves that are awarded to the Cowboys’ most valuable player after victories. The performance is likely to earn Harris his second NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award this season. The first came after he made three tackles that were key to the Cowboys' dominating the field-position battle in their Week 1 win.
Harris’ success on returns isn’t a surprise. He proved himself as an elite punt returner after taking over the role midway through last season, ranking second in the NFL with an average of 16.1 yards on 22 returns, including a 78-yard score that gave the Cowboys the lead for good in their last trip to Philadelphia.
“He has a real good knack for getting north and south quickly, both as a kickoff returner and as a punt returner,” coach Jason Garrett said. “I think that is an important trait. He sees things. He sets up blocks. He is a strong guy. And so he’ll be able to run through tackles more than other guys. And he just has a knack. Some guys have a feel for running in open space.”
It’s rare for a player to be that dangerous as a returner and also excel at the grunt work of covering kicks and punts. It’s what clearly differentiates Harris from the other dynamic return men in the league.
“He just has a demeanor about him as a cover guy,” Garrett said. “You see him defeat guys on the edges a lot. He has good speed. He has good quickness. He’s strong in his lower body. He’s strong in his upper body to get away from guys. He’s a hard matchup for these guys to block. And he has a nose for it. You see him accelerate to the football, and he probably plays faster than his timed speed once the play starts, particularly in those kinds of situations.
“And again, he shows up pretty much on a consistent basis.”
If Harris keeps it up, he should show up at the Pro Bowl at the end of the season.