NFL Draft Profile: Ohio State ILB Malik Harrison

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - DECEMBER 28: Linebacker Malik Harrison #39 of the Ohio State Buckeyes in action during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl against the Clemson Tigers at State Farm Stadium on December 28, 2019 in Glendale, Arizona. The Tigers defeated the Buckeyes 29-23. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The Los Angeles Rams are undergoing a defensive scheme and regime change. With that being said, former Pro Bowl starting inside linebacker Cory Littleton has departed via free agency. That leaves the Rams set to start Micah Kiser, a former fifth-round pick and one of their young crop of inexperienced talent. While the Rams have talent and potential at the position, one could make the argument that they will need to look in the NFL Draft early on for a replacement to Littleton.

That replacement could very well be Malik Harrison out of Ohio State. Harrison has the overall build for the NFL prototypical inside backer and has the athleticism to do more than just look the part. So, let’s take a look at what the buckeye linebacker brings to the table as a prospect in this year’s draft.

College Bio

Harrison was a top athlete recruit out of high school who formerly played quarterback and safety. He played in 43 games at Ohio State and finished his senior season as a starting linebacker for the Buckeyes.

Measurables

Height: 6’3
Weight: 247

Strengths

Harrison’s overall size and athleticism projects him well to the next level as a day-one starter. He operates well as a run defender and due to his great short-area burst, he can be a true thumper in the middle of a defense. Harrison displays the innate ability to read and react. His experienced operation around the line of scrimmage is quite evident and he has no trouble finishing tackles with adequate technique. Harrison excels as a blitzing linebacker and is always quick to get his hands up in the air anticipating a batted pass. He does a nice job of working through trash and finding a crease to the backfield and gets solid gap leverage. He has fluid hips that allow him to change direction quickly which ultimately gives him the ability to eventually develop as a coverage linebacker.

Weaknesses

Harrison’s one big weakness is indeed his cover skills. It’s not necessarily to say he can’t cover as a linebacker but his duties in coverage were very limited while at Ohio State. When he was asked to operate in man coverage he struggled. He does need to work on fixing his angles to the ball, he doesn’t always take the best path. Harrison’s reactionary quickness and overall first-step is great but it can take him out of the play in an instant if he whiffs in the backfield.

Three Plays on Tape

Development

Harrison is a day-one starting mike linebacker that can truly play any linebacker position and excels at stopping the run. He needs to develop as a true cover linebacker to solidify a potential Pro Bowl career but his floor as of right now is high enough to make an impact for any team. He’s got a great combination of size and athleticism and while he may not have the biggest ceiling, he certainly has a ceiling that is big enough to get excited about.

Draft Grade: 2nd round

Bottom Line

Harrison is a very good talent in this draft but the question is how much better is he going to get. Right now, he’s going to be a big-time contributor at the next level in terms of run defense. However, if he can’t develop his game in coverage, it will fully limit his ability to develop into something more than a solid starter. The Rams do have a need at linebacker as mentioned before and Harrison at pick 52 would make a lot of sense for Brandon Staley’s defense that already seems to have a priority with stopping the run.

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