From now until the 2020 NFL Draft takes place, we hope to showcase as many prospects as possible and examine both their strengths and weaknesses. Most of these profiles will feature individuals that the Pittsburgh Steelers are likely to have an interest in, while a few others will be top-ranked players. If there is a player you would like us to analyze, let us know in the comments below.
#39/Malik Harrison/ILB/Ohio State/6’3”, 246 Lbs
-Smart, instinctive linebacker
-Reads and reacts quickly and trusts his eyes when reading keys; thrives coming downhill
-Good closing burst in short areas and is a sound tackler
-Good first step to get moving downhill and fill lanes
-Works off blocks well with quick, strong hands with pop; stays relatively clean
-Hot motor; takes it personally when teams try to run at him
-Susceptible to play-action and trick plays because he leans so heavily on his eyes and keys in front of him
-Lacks flexibility in his hips; labors in change of direction
-Routes and angles on stretch and outside runs are poor, resulting in runners turning upfield against him in space-Range is iffy; long speed sideline to sideline isn’t up to snuff
-Marginal in coverage; able to spot drop, but lacks feel and awareness around him in space
-Played in 53 career games at Ohio State, starting 28 games in four years, including final 27 games of his career
-Finished four-year career with 205 total tackles, 29.5 tackles for loss, 9.0 sacks, and nine pass breakups and three fumble recoveries
-Recorded one of highest run defense grades in the country, according to PFF, grading in at 87.1 against the run in 2019
-Former high school quarterback and free safety that was a 4-star recruit
Ohio State has had quite a bit of success developing defenders, and linebacker Malik Harrison certainly looks like the next in line.
No, he’s not one of the elite ones coming out of the football factory that is THE Ohio State University, but he will certainly have a long career in the NFL due to his intelligence and ability to wear multiple hats for a football team.
Unfortunately for Harrison, when it comes to defense alone, he appears to be playing in the wrong era. He’s not a dynamic athlete and really struggles in coverage. Where he excels is coming downhill to thump running backs in the ground game. It’s too bad the league has transitioned to more spread, up-tempo passing, rather than old-school running, because Harrison would thrive in that environment.
He’s such a smart football player. It’s clear he puts in the work in the film room because he reads his keys well and reacts quickly to put himself in positions to succeed.
Taking on Indiana in 2019, Harrison was all over the place against the Hoosiers. Here, he reads the tackle in front of him driving down towards the center of the line. Seeing that, Harrison is quick to replace the departing tackle, squeezes down the line and makes the stop at the line of scrimmage.
Harrison flows well and really flies downhill with authority when he sees a lane against the run.
That’s some tremendous click and close there from a guy who isn’t a great athlete. That’s the type of play I was waiting to see from Harrison on tape. There’s no wasted movement flowing to his right, and as soon as he sees the lane open up, he’s downhill for the stick and stop.
One thing I saw consistently on tape with Harrison was his ability to get off blocks quickly and make plays in space. He’s not a dynamic athlete by any stretch, but he’s smart and technically sound, which will carry him a long way.
That’s a tough play to make in space, especially against a team as dynamic as Clemson. Harrison has the quick shock on the blocker, slips underneath it and then makes the tackle to prevent the big gain.
When I say he’s a smart, instinctive football player, this is what I’m talking about.
This play is from his sophomore season, which was also his first start at Ohio State. Watch his eyes take him to the right lane, and then watch the way he works to the outside of the lead blocker, taking away the running back’s lane, forcing him to slow up and ultimately get stopped for a short gain.
Usually, young linebackers would try and slip underneath that block to try and make a play. Not Harrison; that’s an awesome job to work over the top, stay gap sound and let your teammates help out. Seeing that from a young linebacker is terrific.
Late in his career though, Harrison became pretty rough in space coming downhill. Against Clemson in the College Football Playoff, Travis Etienne burned him in space, resulting in a long touchdown.
Harrison really struggled as a tackler in his final season at Ohio State, clocking in at a 63.7 tackle grade from PFF. That’s pretty rough.
He’s not going to be able to slip under blocks to make plays like this because he’s a bit stiff in the hips and lacks real bend. That forces him to have to take a wider angle to plays to get around blocks, and what you see happen often is what happened above.
Final thoughts on Harrison – he can be a really good two-down thumper that can occasionally spot drop when asked, but he has to develop more feel there. He won’t be able to turn and run with receivers though, and can’t really defend backs in the passing game other than on quick swings and screens.
I do think Harrison can develop into a really solid No. 2 or No. 3 iLB on a team that utilizes odd-man fronts. He can thrive against the run and could really develop into a key special teams player. I get a real Vince Williams/Zach Brown vibe with him.
Projection: Mid Day 3
Games Watched: Michigan State (2017), Michigan (2018), Indiana (2019), Michigan State (2019), Clemson (CFP, 2019)