Regarded as one of the top EDGE prospects early on in the 2022 NFL Draft cycle, the hype around Ohio State’s Zach Harrison cooled quickly in late 2021. Now, however, Harrison returns as a fourth-year senior, and his NFL draft scouting report is once again a subject of debate. One year later, how does Harrison fit, and what might the end of his collegiate career have in store for him?
Zach Harrison NFL draft profile
Harrison is one of those players you keep tabs on as an NFL prospect the moment he gets out of high school. He was a consensus five-star recruit, whose arrival at Ohio State was met with endless fanfare.
The excitement was well-placed. Harrison was a long and lanky 6’6″ defender who was already over 240 pounds out of high school. He also reportedly clocked a 4.47 40-yard dash at his size and had a documented vertical jump close to 40″. Harrison’s talent was a national spectacle, and when he logged 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in his true freshman season, the excitement only grew.
Since 2019, however, Harrison has largely stagnated. In a shortened 2020 campaign, Harrison logged 4.5 TFLs and two sacks. And in 2021, he added a mere six TFLs and two sacks to his stat line. This isn’t to say he’s been bad. But for a former five-star recruit with early-round aspirations, there’s a sense that something is missing.
Harrison has the tools to realize his early-round potential. But is there something that might keep the Ohio State EDGE from putting it all together? Let’s look at the tape and see for ourselves.
- Position: EDGE
- School: Ohio State
- Current Year: Senior
- Height/Weight: 6’6″, 272 pounds
Zach Harrison scouting report
Harrison’s physical upside is alluring. NFL coaches in particular, who view prospects with the expectation of coaching them up, could fall in love with the potential that Harrison possesses.
Teams like Ohio State have a habit of drawing the freakiest athletes. Harrison is about as freaky as they get. He has dominating size, with a long, burly frame, and an elite wingspan. With his rare length and frame density, he has quantifiably elite raw power capacity, and that’s a central part of his game. Harrison has the power capacity to generate displacement with long arms and bull rushes, and work tackles off-balance. He also has the rotational power and torque to drive blockers into the turf with superior leverage.
Harrison is undoubtedly powerful, but what certifies him as a freak athlete is the explosiveness he brings with that power. The Ohio State EDGE possesses excellent initial explosiveness off the line. He gets off the snap with torrid quickness, and covers ground quickly downfield with long, powerful strides. Going further, Harrison has flashed the ability to carry acceleration around the edge on pass-rushing reps, and he uses his straight-line explosiveness to quickly pressure angles and convert speed to power.
Beyond his length and burst, Harrison has a measured degree of twitch. He’s able to get linemen off-balance with lateral moves, then capitalize with his burst. While his bend is far from a strength, he does have legitimate ankle flexion. He’s shown to reduce his surface area and pinch tight angles around blocks. Furthermore, he flashes enough ankle flexion to sustain a degree of acceleration around the apex while holding a lever with his length.
With his blend of traits, Harrison has shown to execute in both phases — against the run and the pass. In run defense, Harrison’s shown he can extend inside the torso, then lock out and draw power up from his base, driving blockers back.
He can blast blockers off their spot in run support with ruthless, powerful extensions, and has the length and core strength to set a strong edge as a run defender. With his strength and lateral burst off the snap, Harrison surges into gaps, wrenches up blockers, and swarms running backs as they enter lanes.
Meanwhile, as a pass rusher, the Ohio State EDGE has shown he can win around the edge with heavy rip moves and cross-chops. He stacks inside clubs and rips while employing measured ankle flexion, and flashing the capacity for fast, violent hand usage with his length. While his full application could improve, Harrison does have a working arsenal of pass-rushing moves.
Predictably, Harrison’s combination of size and athleticism can make him dangerous in pursuit. It also helps that he’s an urgent defender with a good motor in both phases, and he keeps his energy high through second-effort opportunities. The Ohio State EDGE has enough athleticism and length to get out in space and blanket running backs escaping to the flats.
Harrison also brings exceptional closing burst in pursuit. With his length and explosiveness, he engulfs ball carriers and has very good straight-line pursuit speed in space. Additionally, Harrison improved his read-and-recognition abilities as an option defender over the course of 2021.
Harrison’s areas for improvement
The most pressing concern for Harrison, outside of his leverage, is his capped bend capacity. Although he has ankle flexion, his torso is startlingly stiff. That stiffness limits the amount he can shrink his surface area and often prevents him from rolling his hips through rushes. Harrison’s rushes consistently fade at the apex when he’s unable to dip below blockers.
Another side effect of limited flexibility at larger sizes can be poor leverage. Such is the case with Harrison. The Ohio State EDGE sometimes drifts upright after making contact, causing his leg drive on power rushes to stall out. He also often comes out of his stance with his pad level too tall. When this happens, his extensions can cause lurching and neutralize his lower body from rushes.
Harrison’s pad level as a rusher needs to become much more consistent. Stiffness and poor leverage frequently dilute opportunities for him on passing downs. His pad level also hurts in run support. Harrison needs to anchor lower and acquire better leverage, as he can be worked back past his center of gravity when he plays too high up.
Moving onward, Harrison can be a bit stiff laterally when he has to change directions quickly. He’s more of a linear athlete overall. He also sometimes struggles to unlatch and break anchors in run defense. His hips aren’t flexible enough to pry around blockers in pursuit consistently. To that end, the Ohio State EDGE doesn’t have elite play strength, and Harrison often experiences a delay when trying to break through extensions.
While Harrison has above-average hand usage, there’s still room for him to refine his craft as a pass rusher. His hands have fast capacity, but they’re sometimes heavy and looming. Harrison has room to maximize energy efficiency on rushes, and he can do a better job sustaining rushes and stacking pass-rush counters. The Ohio State EDGE has rushing moves, but he sometimes experiences delays between them.
In a similar vein, Harrison can better load and re-exert power with his hands at times. He doesn’t always load maximum potential energy ahead of extensions and has some wasted motion in his upper body.
Current draft projection for Ohio State EDGE Zach Harrison
With his physical tools and pedigree, Harrison will naturally receive first-round hype. I’m of the mind that he’s more of a late Day 2 product right now.
At his maximum projection, Harrison does have first-round potential. However, in his fourth year, there are still steps to take before he reaches that point.
The majority of the appeal with Harrison comes from his high-level physical skill set. At his size, with near-36″ arms, Harrison has elite traits, and he combines them with elite explosiveness and exceptional pursuit speed. Especially when his path is linear, Harrison can be very disruptive, and he’s flashed enough ankle flexion to work around the apex.
Unfortunately, however, that work around the apex doesn’t come nearly as consistently as desired. More often than not, when Harrison has to pinch the corner, his torso stiffness and poor leverage prevents him from doing so. He plays tall too often, and his lack of flexibility can impede his ability to lower himself. That’s not ideal at a position where leverage and efficiency are both vital components.
Even so, Harrison has an enticing skill set as a power rusher, and his frame allows him to rotate inside as well. If he can work on improving his leverage out of his stance, it could help him further maximize his hands and natural tools. In three and four-point stances, Harrison is worth the investment in late Day 2 as a valuable rotational piece with starting upside.