Ohio State has had quite the luck with quarterbacks-turned-linebackers lately, haven’t they? A few years ago, Darron Lee turned into one of the most dynamic linebackers in the country and found himself drafted in the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Now, Malik Harrison is looking to replicate Lee’s path.
Much like Lee, Harrison played his high school football in the Columbus area, starting for three seasons behind center for Walnut Ridge. Harrison also played strong safety and punter for Walnut Ridge, but came to Ohio State as an athlete with the ability to play pretty much anywhere on the field. Once Harrison arrived on campus, he was able to find a home at linebacker.
While for many it would have taken some time to adjust to a new position, Harrison was thrown into the fray rather early, appearing in 12 games at a reserve role as a true freshman, followed by seeing action in 14 games in 2017. His junior year was when things really started to take off for Harrison.
As a junior, Harrison started to make an impact, registering 81 tackles and 8.5 tackles for loss. The performance by Harrison earned him honorable mention All-Big Ten honors. Harrison could have declared for the NFL Draft, but he decided it was in his best interests to return to Ohio State for his senior season.
The decision was a wise one for Harrison. Playing behind defensive end Chase Young and ahead of cornerback Jeff Okudah, Harrison was able to create havoc from his linebacker spot. While Harrison made six less tackles in his senior year, he made sure his tackles counted, as he doubled his tackles for loss from his junior year to senior season. Harrison was so strong throughout the year that he was named first team All-Big Ten and a third team AP All-American. His outstanding athletic ability throughout the year pushed Harrison to become a potential pick on the second day of this year’s NFL Draft.
Now Harrison will be looking to make a similar impact in the NFL. What makes Harrison so attractive is his combination of size, physicality, and range. The aggression and downhill motion Harrison plays with leads to serious disruption in the run game, as well as plenty of impact tackles. When Harrison wraps his opponents up, it’s unlikely they are getting away. 66 percent of Harrison’s tackles were solo tackles.
There are some limitations that Harrison has to work on if he wants to be a hit in the NFL. Even though Harrison possesses tremendous athleticism, his instincts can leave some to be desired. There are times when Harrison gets going a little too fast, which can leave him out of position in plays that involve misdirection or play action.
As we are seeing quarterbacks that are more mobile, Harrison can be deployed as a spy, but he has to be careful since at times he was undisciplined against zone-read schemes. Another area NFL teams will have to address with Harrison is the inconsistent angles he takes to the ball. While he might have been able to get away with it because of his athletic ability in college, these attributes won’t save him as much in the NFL.
Even though there are areas that Harrison will have to work on in the NFL to make him a more complete linebacker, he would be an outstanding pick for any NFL team. Harrison has already shown to be rock solid against the run, as well as being a pressure blitzer. Now, he just has to work on improving his work in pass coverage. Harrison’s outstanding athletic ability should help him get better in this area, since it’ll come down mostly to sharpening his football IQ and instincts. Expect to hear Harrison’s name being called at the professional level for quite a while.