The No. 3 player on this list thought about leaving early for the NFL, but is back for his second year as a starter following a season where he led the Buckeyes with 81 tackles and was fourth with 8.5 tackles for loss.
No. 3 — Malik Harrison, Senior Linebacker
Malik Harrison was one of those rare Ohio prospects who received an Ohio State offer following his senior season of football.
A 3-star prospect and the No. 48 “athlete” in the 2016 recruiting class, Harrison received his offer in December of 2015, took an official visit in January, and then committed to OSU on signing day.
There was some thought that Harrison could be a safety, but he began his career at linebacker, where he has remained.
Last season as the starting Will linebacker, he tied for the team lead with 81 tackles. His 8.5 tackles for loss were behind Chase Young, Dre’Mont Jones, and Tuf Borland. He also tallied 2.5 sacks.
Harrison was a valuable reserve as a sophomore in 2017 behind Jerome Baker.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds, Harrison has ideal size for a linebacker, but is also a very natural athlete who uses his ability and speed to cover a good amount of ground.
Last year was not a great one for the Ohio State linebackers, but this year is expected to be much better for everyone, including the already productive Malik Harrison.
What He Does Well
Harrison is a mobile linebacker who can run from one hash to the other better than most.
He has the size and strength to handle the running game, but is also solid in pass defense. He has very good awareness while dropping into coverage. Harrison keeps his eyes on the quarterback while in a zone, but can also turn and run quite well when needed.
Harrison is also an effective blitzer, as he showed last year against Michigan.
“Shot out of a cannon, Malik Harrison” pic.twitter.com/DBmON1CnUF
— Mr. Ohio (@MrOH1O) November 26, 2018
He was far from perfect last season, but a new defensive coaching staff and new defensive system will work to get him as close to perfect as he can be this year.
Malik Harrison In 2019
Harrison will once again man his Will linebacker spot, but there will be some differences due to the changes in scheme.
Over his last four regular season Big Ten games last season, Harrison put up 5.5 tackles for loss. As the season went on, he became a more reliable playmaker. He wasn’t as out of control as he was earlier in the season when he would get into the backfield yet come up empty.
Malik Harrison has now seen it all, but he will need to adapt and grow with a new defense. The expectations are that his skill set will allow him to thrive.
Depending on how aggressive defensive coordinators Greg Mattison and Jeff Hafley choose to be, it might be worth noting that Michigan Will linebacker Mike McCray finished with 17 tackles for loss in 2017.
What They Are Saying
“You would like it to be that way, but that Mike has got to be a dude. And if you get like a two-by-two formation or you vacate the back out of there, there’s times that Will has got to have more cover skills than the Mike. I’ve been around so many different deals, but yeah, that’s a good question. I think they can be interchangeable. Fortunately for us, Malik is older, he knows ball, he could play Mike if we needed him to. Tuf and Baron, those guys are smart. We’ve got guys that can play both.” — Linebackers coach Al Washington on the need for the Will to be able to play the Mike if needed.
“Malik Harrison for example, he’s a fourth-year guy. He’s a senior. Clearly, he’s not on the same level as a freshman, right? So when I say that nobody’s comfortable, Malik Harrison has earned enough equity in his body of work. He’s an excellent talent.” — Al Washington on jobs being open, but experience mattering.