Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills RB Damien Harris

Injury Analysis: Buffalo Bills RB Damien Harris

After losing Devin Singletary to the Houston Texans on Monday, the Buffalo Bills needed to bolster their running back stable. This came in the decision to sign former New England Patriots RB Damien Harris to a one-year contract. 

Though playing in a timeshare throughout his career with the Patriots, Harris was at times productive, especially when facing the Buffalo Bills. 

Harris certainly showed flashes of brilliance, logging 929 yards and 15 touchdowns in 2021, but injuries have held him back at times. Never playing a full season, Harris has missed numerous games due to soft tissue ailments. Below is Harris’s full publicly reported injury history and concerns moving forward.

High School

2014 Senior year

Harris suffered a right knee injury, specifically an MCL sprain late in the first half against Southwestern in October of 2014. He was unable to return and had to miss the following week against Pulaski. He was forced to miss the next four games before returning for the season finale. Unfortunately, the team struggled mightly without him, going 1-5 once he got injured after starting 5-0 that season.



2016 Sophomore year

Right ankle injury, Week 4, missed 0 games.

Harris injured his right ankle early in the first quarter against Kent State, requiring assistance to leave the field. He later had it heavily taped and was unable to return. He did not miss any following games, but was limited in his production against Kentucky. It’s not clear the exact specifics of the injury based on reports alone. 

2018 Senior year

Concussion, Week 12, missed 0 games 

Harris took a big hit in the third quarter before going down, requiring the assessment of training staff before exiting the game. Head coach Nick Saban reported that Harris had a “mild concussion”, but there are not any differences in terms of severity regarding concussions. He was able to pass through concussion protocol and return the following week. 


2019 New England Patriots

Right hand/wrist, preseason, missed 1 game.

Hamstring, side not specified, prior to Week 11, missed 2 games.

Harris missed the preseason game against the Detroit Lions with a right hand/wrist injury sometime in practice. He was able to return the following week.

As for his hamstring, looking at the practice reports, Harris suffered a hamstring strain late in the week prior to the Week 11 matchup against the Philadelphia Eagles. He was forced to miss the game and the following week on the injury report. He was then declared a healthy scratch as he was most of the season, appearing in only two games.

2020 Patriots

Broken pinky, side not specified, injured reserve to start the season, missed 3 games.

Ankle injury, side not specified, Week 7, missed 0 games.

Back injury, Week 14, missed 0 games.

Ankle injury, side not specified, Week 14, missed 3 games.

Harris suffered a broken pinky late in training camp that required surgery to correct. As a result of the timing, he was placed on injured reserve to start the season, missing the minimum three games. According to one source, Harris broke the finger while attempting to catch a pass from QB Jarrett Stidham in practice.

He then suffered an ankle injury possibly in Week 7 against the San Francisco 49ers that did not force him to miss any time, but did leave him questionable for the next four weeks. He repeatedly stated that the ankle was “fine”. It appeared to be the case as he rushed for 102 yards and a touchdown against Buffalo in Week 8.

A back injury forced Harris out of the Week 14 contest against the Los Angeles Rams, but he was not listed on the injury report the following week. 

However, Harris did show up on the injury report with an ankle injury during practice that Thursday. He was limited before being downgraded to out, missing the final three games with two of them being questionable before being placed on IR for the final game.

2021 Patriots

Ribs, Week 5, missed 0 games.

Concussion, Week 9, missed 1 game.

Neck, Week 11, missed 0 games.

Hamstring, side not specified, Week 13, missed 1 game. 

Harris suffered a hit to his ribs in the fourth quarter in the Week 5 matchup against the Houston Texans and was not able to return. 

He then suffered a concussion in Week 9 against the Carolina Panthers, forcing him to miss the following week against the Cleveland Browns. 

Harris appeared on the injury report with a neck designation without any additional details. He was questionable heading into the game, but played, having no drop off in snap count. It’s not known whether the neck issue was lingering from the concussion in Week 9.

Finally, Harris suffered a hamstring strain during the crazy wind game against the Buffalo Bills in Week 13. He was able to return at one point, having a memorable 64-yard TD run during the game. He missed the following game and lingered on the injury report the next three weeks afterward.

2022 Patriots

Left knee injury, Week 2, missed 0 games.

Hamstring, side not specified, Week 5, missed 1 game.

Illness, Week 9, missed 1 game.

Left thigh, Week 12, missed 4 games.

Harris suffered a left knee injury on his final carry in Week 2 which got the Patriots a first down to win the game. He was observed holding his knee, requiring training staff to assess him. He was later on the sidelines trying to walk it off at the end of the game. 

Harris once again suffered a hamstring strain in Week 5 that caused him to miss the following week. What’s interesting is that he was slated to miss several weeks, implying the severity was significant at the time, yet returned quicker than anyone had anticipated. 

He then came down with an illness prior to Week 9, missing the game. 

Regretfully, the injuries didn’t stop for Harris as he suffered a deep thigh bruise that cost him the following four games. He left at the end of the first half after a hit to what appeared to be his left thigh for no gain. 

After the game, he was observed on crutches in the locker room, indicating that pain and swelling had set in, limiting his ability to bear weight. He was either ruled out or doubtful the next several weeks before getting a questionable designation but not playing in the fourth week before returning to play. 

Buffalo Bills Injury Outlook

Harris is on a one-year deal at probably the league minimum. Contract details have not been released as of publication but considering former Bills RB Devin Singletary signed for one-year, $3.75 million with the Texans, I highly doubt the Bills paid over that for Harris.

Missing 16 regular season games over four years isn’t great, but Harris plays a very physical position with a short life span. Hamstring injuries three out of the four years along with two concussions in his history and several ankle injuries are the main concerns. Some of the other injuries are the result of playing the game and are unavoidable, but his availability appears to be the reason the Patriots let him walk.

The obvious concern is the hamstrings, but any injury for that matter that costs him time will be an issue at this point. 

This signing could be a boom or bust for the Bills. They have running backs in Nyhiem Hines and James Cook who have shown to be far healthier and can handle the workload. Harris has shown the ability to produce when called upon, but if he can stay healthy.

If he makes the roster and produces, the Bills didn’t invest a lot into him and reap the rewards. If he suffers another injury or is ineffective, they can move on easily from him. I initially liked the signing only because I recalled how effective he was against the Buffalo Bills.

After doing the research, if he works out, great, if not, it was worth a shot. You can’t really hate the signing because he does bring value, but at minimum risk due to the contract length. Hopefully he can stay healthy and provide the Bills a new wrinkle in the offense for 2023.

Top Photo Credit: Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images