Another new group of Buckeyes are about to officially become NFL players, so we’re taking a look back at the best highlights from their Ohio State careers in From the Shoe to the Show.
Ohio State is set to be one of the most well-represented schools in the NFL draft once again in 2020, with more than a dozen players who are expected to either be drafted or sign as undrafted free agents when this year’s draft is held later this month (April 23-25).
Malik Harrison is among those who are sure bets to get the call to the league. After tying the team lead with 81 tackles in 2018 and leading Ohio State with 75 tackles in 2019, the four-year linebacker and two-year starter for the Buckeyes has been consistently projected as a second- or third-round draft pick.
From the Shoe to the Show
While he was somewhat overshadowed on Ohio State’s defense by projected top-five picks Chase Young and Jeff Okudah, Harrison was one of the Buckeyes’ most reliably productive defenders for the past two years. He was the only bright spot of a linebacker group that struggled mightily in 2018, then took his game to greater heights – recording 16.5 tackles for loss – in his senior season.
Just a couple weeks before he will officially become an NFL player, it’s time to look back at some of Harrison’s top moments from his Ohio State career.
First career sack
Harrison played mostly on special teams as a true freshman, but saw some playing time at linebacker in the second half of blowout games in 2016. His biggest game as a first-year Buckeye came in a 62-3 win at Maryland, in which he recorded a season-high four tackles and his first career sack, which came near the end of the third quarter with Ohio State already ahead by 52 points.
As Maryland quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome attempted to scramble away from a blitz by fellow Ohio State linebacker Dante Booker, Harrison stayed discipline-sound in his coverage assignment until Pigrome came toward him. Harrison then reacted instinctively to get to Pigrome, wrap him up and take him down behind the line of scrimmage on 4th-and-5, getting the Buckeyes defense off the field and recording the only sack of his freshman year.
Steps up in first career start
With Booker and Jerome Baker both sidelined by injuries for Ohio State’s 10th game of the 2017 season against Michigan State, Harrison was called upon to not only make his first career start for the Buckeyes, but to play every single snap (72 in total) at outside linebacker.
Harrison stepped up to the challenge, recording six tackles – his career-high at that point – and had a sack and a pass breakup in Ohio State’s 48-3 rout of the Spartans. While he wouldn’t make another start for the rest of the 2017 season, his strong performance as a fill-in ensured he’d be in line to succeed Baker as the Buckeyes’ starting weakside linebacker in 2018.
A leaping interception
Harrison recorded the only official interception of his Ohio State career in 2018 (though he also picked off a two-point conversion pass against Indiana that same season) in the Buckeyes’ third game of that season against TCU, putting his athleticism on display in the process.
Also a standout basketball player at Walnut Ridge High School who won the Battle for the City dunk contest in 2016, Harrison showed how his leaping ability could make a difference on the football field when he skied to pick off an errant downfield throw by TCU quarterback Shawn Robinson with less than three minutes to play in the game, sealing a 40-28 victory for his team in Dallas.
A 13-tackle game
In terms of total tackles, Harrison had the most productive game of his Ohio State career in the Buckeyes’ 36-31 win over Nebraska in 2018, when he recorded 13 total tackles. It was one of three times in the second half of the Buckeyes’ 2018 season, along with their loss to Purdue and Big Ten Championship Game win over Northwestern, in which Harrison recorded at least 10 tackles.
On a day where Ohio State’s defense struggled as it did much of 2018, Harrison’s efforts were key to slowing the Cornhuskers down just enough for the Buckeyes to eke out a five-point victory.
Set the tone against the Wolverines
Making big plays against Michigan always means a little bit more for a Buckeye – especially for a player who’s actually from Columbus – and that’s what Harrison did from the beginning of his first start against the team up north in 2018.
On just the second play of the game, Harrison came unblocked on a blitz and buried Shea Patterson for a 7-yard sack. Later in the first quarter, Harrison exploded into the backfield again and chased down Karan Higdon for a 5-yard tackle for loss.
Those two tackles for loss were part of a seven-tackle performance that Harrison described as the “best game” of his career at that time and which earned him Ohio State’s defensive player of the week honors for the Buckeyes’ 62-39 win.
Fumble recovery and run
Harrison recovered three fumbles over the course of his final two seasons at Ohio State, with the best among them coming in his senior year against Michigan State.
On Michigan State’s opening possession of the game, Damon Arnette stripped the ball out of Cody White’s hands after a catch and Harrison was in the right place at the right time. The senior linebacker athletically scooped up the fumble and returned it 22 yards to set the Buckeyes up well into Spartan territory.
Harrison’s fumble return provided an early boost of momentum in a game Ohio State would ultimately win 34-10.
Two athletic swatdowns
We already talked about Harrison’s leaping ability and basketball background earlier, and another example of that translating to him making an impact on the football field came last season against Maryland, when he made a pair of one-handed pass breakups that looked like blocks you’d see on the basketball court.
Both plays belong on his highlight reel as examples of his ability to use his instincts, athleticism and length to make plays in space, which is why his NFL draft wait shouldn’t last past Day 2.
First-team All-Big Ten, third-team All-American
In recognition of his excellent senior season, Harrison was selected as a first-team All-Big Ten linebacker by the conference’s coaches in 2019, becoming the first Ohio State linebacker to earn that recognition since Raekwon McMillan in 2016. Harrison also earned third-team All-American honors from the Associated Press.
Much like fellow Central Ohio product Darron Lee, Harrison arrived at Ohio State as a three-star athlete recruit and finished his career as a star linebacker who is now well on his way to being an early-round pick in the NFL draft. His top-notch athleticism enabled him to become a leading playmaker on Ohio State’s defense, and now, it gives him a chance to be an impact player at the next level, as well.