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Why the Ravens drafted Malik Harrison

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To make Baltimore linebackers great again

Reese’s Senior Bowl Photo by Don Juan Moore/Getty Images

The Ravens used the 98th overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft to select Malik Harrison, a linebacker from Ohio State University. Harrison was the second linebacker selected by Baltimore, following Patrick Queen, who the Ravens selected 70 picks prior.

Doubling down at linebacker was necessary. Heading into the draft, the Ravens had one of, if not the weakest linebacker rooms in football. As sound as L.J. Fort was in 2019, he’s never played more than 31% of total defensive snaps in a season. Adding both Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison turned a potential Achilles Heel into another muscle to flex.

Malik Harrison is a big, strong, physical linebacker who plays through blockers as well as, if not better, than any linebacker in the 2020 class. A former option quarterback in high school, Harrison is has good lateral agility and footwork, especially considering his 6-foot-3, 250 pound frame. Harrison is one of only five linebackers (Von Miller, Demarcus Ware, T.J. Watt and Tyus Bowser) to measure 6-foot-three or taller, 245 pounds or heavier, jump 36 inches high, post a 4.65 40 time and a 6.85 three cone shuttle.

He’s built like a defensive end, but is a natural off-ball linebacker with strong instincts and good movement skills. Harrison’s greatest asset is his physicality. In particular, he stacks and sheds blockers with explosive pop in his pads. He strikes ball carriers with textbook form, always the lower man at the time of contact. Coiling himself extremely well, the former Buckeye explodes through contact.

The tenacity which Harrison brings against inside run concepts is as if every play is third and short, regardless of the situation. His explosive stacking of blockers is unwavering, regardless of opponent, time, place or situation. Harrison will fill the void that C.J. Mosley left behind as a literal linebacker. One that backs the line. He handled high quality offensive linemen with ease on a regular basis. A menace between the tackles, Harrison also always has enough speed to force ballcarriers to the sideline.

I had a borderline first round grade on Harrison ahead of the draft. In my pre-draft first round options article, I mentioned that I couldn’t in good faith include Kenneth Murray and not include Harrison. While Harrison doesn’t quite have the explosive range or twitchy movement skills as Murray or his new teammate Patrick Queen, they don’t play through contact the way he does.

Harrison can over-pursue against elite athletes like Travis Etienne, but the narrative that he’s a lethargic, plodding mover is pure hyperbole.

Harrison has a great lateral shuffle. He keeps his movement tight and under control, a smooth mover who can flip his hips and change direction surprisingly well for a big dude.

His role in coverage was often more complex than his fellow 2020 linebacker classmates. Harrison displayed strong technique against RPO concepts, using his shuffle technique to stay with the running back, then sliding back into route concepts behind him.

Ohio State also asked Harrison to turn and run with routes that entered his zone, which is match coverage. Harrison was often quick to identify crossers working behind him, turn, and run. While Harrison had his lapses in coverage at times, he had much more responsibility than most linebackers in college football, which will make his transition to the next level easier. He keeps a nice wide base and shuffles like a boxer, light on his feet. His time spent on cone footwork drills is evident in his drops.

While I wouldn’t rely on Harrison to be the cover linebacker, he’s proven he can hold his own enough to be a factor on third down. Pairing that with his success when blitzing, Harrison provides a versatile threat for Wink Martindale’s creeper blitzes. He will get beat in coverage when matched up in man, but he won’t be the weak link too often. Harrison does a great job getting his hands on receivers and rerouting them. However, if they can survive that, he often finds himself flat footed at the stem of the route, where receivers quickly separate on hard breaks.

Harrison is also dynamic when blitzing, coming downhill with bad intentions, but rarely out of control. The way he strikes ball carriers is consistent. He coils, strikes through the hips and legs, puts his head to the side and wraps up on nearly every attempt. Consistency is the name of Harrison’s game.

Overall, Harrison is my favorite pick in this Ravens draft class. I fail to see why he was barely a top-100 selection. He wasn’t necessarily a game breaker, rather a consistent player who did his job and made plays when his assignment led him there. While Harrison can overrun his assignments occasionally, so do all linebackers. He excels as a pass rusher and against the run, with consistently sound coverage ability.

His struggles may come against the smaller, shiftier backs in the league, which happened at OSU from time to time. However, he has Patrick Queen, who is built more like a running back, to roam sideline to sideline with those types. Harrison brings the heavy hands back to the Ravens linebacker room. With Calais Campbell and company figuring to make life difficult on opposing offensive lines, Harrison will explode into late combo blocks and wreck runs.

Harrison and Queen are both listed as starters on the Ravens official depth chart, and they have the potential to give Baltimore what they thought they were getting when Zach Orr and C.J. Mosley formed a promising young duo.

Rookie prediction:

The former Buckeye may never become the flashy All-Pro who receives acclaim, but he is a damn good football player who will restore tone setting physicality to the Ravens linebacker room. He is willing to do the dirty work required to make plays, and if any city appreciates dirty work, it’s Baltimore.

Harrison will play his best games against downhill running offenses, becoming a staple on early downs and rotating in on third down. He will have his ups and downs in coverage, but if he keeps his patient, fluid feet working, he will continue to improve.

70 tackles, six tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one interception and three passes defended.

Harrison becomes a fan favorite by year two, where he becomes a three down player and cog in the Ravens defense alongside Patrick Queen.