The annual coronation of a new Mr. Irrelevant is one of the NFL Draft’s rites of passages. Frankly, the title is lame and a completely disingenuous given the flood of coverage each year’s Mr. Irrelevant is given. Nevertheless, it’s here to stay because of the annual Newport Beach Irrelevant Week hosted in that player’s honor. And this year, that player is former Northern Illinois quarterback Chandler Harnish.
The Indianapolis Colts bookended the 2012 Draft with quarterback selections of Andrew Luck and Harnish. The similarities don’t end there, either. Luck’s college accolades and accomplishments are well known: over 9300 career passing yards, 82 touchdowns, a two-time Heisman Trophy finalist, leader of a historic era in Stanford football history. And what Luck was to the Cardinal, Harnish was to NIU.
Several adjectives describe Harnish: multi-talented; explosive; hard-nosed. Many adjectives, none of them irrelevant. Harnish’s legacy at NIU could down as the most impacting one individual Husky has ever had, much in the same way Luck is perceived. Harnish certainly lacked the fan fare. Though NIU reached the Top 25 in his time there, playing in the MAC comes with a certain obscurity of regional coverage and Tuesday night broadcasts. Luck plied his trade in the renowned Pac.
Thus the national attention Luck commanded made it known how valuable he was to the Cardinal offense. He could do everything, obviously passing at a torrid clip, scrambling effectively when needed, even catching a pass here and there. Luck was also an extensive of the coaching staff on the field. But Harnish’s 39 total touchdowns actually matched Luck’s in 2011. Harnish was just as irreplaceable to his offense, filling numerous gaps as needed
From an NFL standpoint, running a shotgun offense that called on Harnish to run frequently did not fit the NFL mold Luck’s Pro Set cast. Harnish was one of the most capable ball carrying quarterbacks in all of college football, another trait comparable to Luck. David Shaw called Luck’s No. 12 far more sparingly as both offensive coordinator and head coach than Harnish had his tapped. In fact, Harnish finished 2011 the No. 25 rusher overall in yards per game with 98.5. That totaled 1379 and accounted for 11 touchdowns.
Rushing quarterbacks have a difficult time carving a niche in the NFL, but Harnish proved himself as valuable passing the ball as carrying it. His completion percentage never dipped below 61.7 from his sophomore through his final campaign. Again mirroring Luck, Harnish’s yards and touchdowns climbed each season as well.
He was smart with the football, throwing a combined 17 interceptions his final three seasons, compared to 60 touchdowns; a ratio of better than 3:1. And how the contribution Harnish made on the field manifested itself was in an unprecedented run of success for the NIU football program. The Huskies reached bowl games every year Harnish was behind center. That’s more than the remainder of the program’s history combined. In the last two seasons, the Huskies went a cumulative 22-6. Few teams amassed better records over that same time frame, one of them being Luck’s Stanford Cardinal.
The way Luck led Stanford to national prominence has gone down as the most impressive run in program history. Likewise, the Harnish era is the new gold standard any one player wearing the red-and-black in DeKalb must meet.
Harnish will not compete with Luck for starting quarterback duties in Indianapolis. Luck is a once-a-generation talent. But even the best players are injured from time-to-time, and a back-up’s value is apparent at some point of every NFL season. Should Harnish remain with the Colts, his similarities to the No. 1 won’t scream that he was drafted 252 selections later.
Call that irrelevant.