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2020 NFL Draft prospect watch: Malik Harrison, LB, Ohio State

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With the playoffs now out of the question, it’s draft prospect time!

Rose Bowl Game Presented by Northwestern Mutual - Washington v Ohio State Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The Detroit Lions were officially eliminated from playoff contention after third string quarterback David Blough was unable to lead the team on a game-winning drive against the Chicago Bears on Thanksgiving. With their playoff hopes dashed, the Lions are likely looking at developing what talent they can on the roster, a process they’ve already begun by getting players like Amani Oruwariye and Will Harris a ton of playing time.

The fans, on the other hand, have nothing exciting to look forward to in the next few weeks from their football team, so we’re looking ahead to the draft. With so many needs on both sides of the ball, we could have really started anywhere but chose to start with one of the weakest units on the Lions roster, linebacker.

Malik Harrison, Linebacker, Ohio State

Height: 6-foot3 Weight 240 lbs.

Stats

2019: 61 Tackles (39 Solo), 3.5 Sacks, 14.5 TFL, 3 PD, 2 FR
2018: 81 Tackles (55 Solo), 2.5 Sacks, 8.5 TFL, 1 Interception, 4 PD, 1 FR
2017: 36 Tackles (22 Solo), 2.0 Sacks, 3.0 TFL, 1 PD
2016: 13 Tackles (10 Solo), 1.0 Sack, 1.0 TFL

Current Projection - 2nd-3rd Round

#1 ILB - Drafttek.com
#1 OLB - Draftscout.com
#9 OLB Walterfootball.com
#8 LB TheDraftNetwork.com (Kyle Crabbs)

Athleticism

One of the chief criticisms you’ll hear about Malik Harrison is an athletic one, and as Lions fans, I’m going to give you a chance to guess what it is first.

The first player I thought of, from an athletic limitation standpoint, was Jarrad Davis. What do you think that limitation is? If you guessed change of direction and agility, you’re correct! Sadly, you’re a Lions fan so you don’t win anything (zing!).

After my initial review, I read other scouting reports to see how my own initial thoughts lined up with others, and I was a bit surprised to see some claiming his speed and explosion aren’t up to snuff as I didn’t see that much if at all. He’s not a crazy burner like Devin White or Devin Bush were, and he’s not as explosive as someone like Lorenzo Carter, but he looks fairly explosive and fast enough to chase down running backs in the 4.5 range when he takes the right angle. I would rate both of those traits above average to very good, while I think his agility is anywhere between poor and terrible.

I expect him to gain a few more pounds before the combine, but given his size, that’s still a pretty good profile. A projection of his metrics is below.

Malik Harrison Relative Athletic Score projection based on initial tape review.

Initial Scouting Report

I watched three games in my first viewing of Malik Harrison, which I’ve linked at the end of this article. Harrison plays off of the ball primarily, often sitting in zone coverage or blitzing on passing plays while playing spy against mobile quarterbacks. He occasionally manned up in coverage both on running backs and on tight ends, but this was not a common occurrence, and I wasn’t able to get a read on his man coverage abilities. In zone, he’s decent enough to understand where he is supposed to be and where his receivers are.

I would describe his coverage ability as active. He’s constantly moving his feet and following the quarterback’s eyes and tracking potential target movement. Those are positive traits—you don’t usually want someone with their feet stuck in the mud or just staring at the QB. Still, he is primarily a run defender or blitzer, roles that he both seems to enjoy and was clearly more suited for.

Harrison has strong football awareness, both in play intelligence and in gap discipline. He is rarely caught out of position and rarely loses ball carriers he is able to get his hands on. As a blitzer, he doesn’t seem to read his gaps more than he does decisively pick one and attack it. He’s more rocket than heat-seeking missle, but he has the speed and explosiveness to be dangerous blitzing from mulitple platforms.

Detroit Lions Team Fit

For all of these reports, we’re going to be assuming no major coaching changes are forthcoming. Sorry, doomsdayers. I mentioned Jarrad Davis before as a single athletic trait comparison, but from a schematic standpoint, that is the job that Malik Harrison would be taking if he ended up in Detroit. There is some versatility to his game, but not in the same way it is for Jahlani Tavai. Watching how Ohio State deployed Harrison both against the pass and the run, it was impossible not to see the similarities to how Davis is used in Matt Patricia’s system.

I would expect Harrison to be used in much of the same ways, moving around every play to find a match up and blitzing or covering on pass plays. Harrison rushes the passer from various spots along the line, but the Buckeyes also liked to have him fake a rush then drop into coverage in a similar fashion to how the Lions often use their linebackers. He is on the low end of the size profile the Lions prefer under this staff, but I suspect he’s either playing above his current listed weight of 240 or will be so by the time he’s measured for the draft process.

Game Tape

Michigan 2018

Michigan State 2019

Indiana 2019