Ohio State has become a defensive end factory for the NFL. Three former Buckeyes have heard their names called within the first three selections of the NFL draft's first round since 2016.
It started with Joey Bosa, who broke out as a sophomore and anchored an overhauled Ohio State defense that went on to win a national title in 2014. He was dominant coming off the edge for the Buckeyes that year, piling up 13.5 sacks while being named a unanimous first-team All American.
Joey's younger brother Nick Bosa was next in line. Nick came into the program the year after Joey was selected third overall by the Chargers in the NFL draft, and he made an immediate impact for the Ohio State defense. But like his brother, he made his biggest splash as a sophomore, registering 8.5 sacks and 16 tackles for loss during the Buckeyes' 2017 season.
But Chase Young was arguably the most impressive of them all. The No. 2 draft pick by the Redskins just put a bow on the most dominant season by a defensive end in Ohio State football history. Young tallied a program-record 16.5 sacks despite serving a mid-season two-game suspension and was largely unblockable in one-on-one situations the entire year.
That trio built a strong legacy at the defensive end position at Ohio State, and Zach Harrison is primed to build on it in 2020.
Harrison debuted for the Buckeyes last year as a true freshman and flashed his potential on the other side of the line opposite Young. He notched 5.5 tackles for loss and 3.5 sacks in 2019, making his first start against Maryland and then starting against Clemson again in the college football playoff.
His freshman highlights show he's not just a pass-rusher, but a capable run-stopper as well. He produced at a similar level as the Bosa brothers and Young during their freshmen seasons, and he's hoping to make the same sophomore leap they did this fall.
Harrison gets a huge early test in Week 2 against Oregon.
When Ohio State makes its cross-country trip to play the Ducks on September 12, it'll face an Oregon offensive line replacing four starters from a year ago. That lone returner, offensive tackle Penei Sewell, is widely considered the best linemen in all of college football. Just read this analysis from PFF on the best returning offensive linemen in 2020.
This one wasn’t even a debate. Sewell’s 95.5 PFF overall grade in 2019 not only led all offensive linemen regardless of alignment this year, but it was the highest PFF College has ever seen. His WAA this year is among the likes of Ryan Ramczyk, Quenton Nelson and Shaq Mason — who are all starting in the NFL and performing at a high level. If he were draft-eligible this year, he’d most certainly be a top-five lock. Sewell is the only offensive lineman to produce a PFF pass-blocking and run-blocking grade above 90.0 and one of the best players returning to college football, regardless of position.
That's the challenge Harrison faces in Ohio State's top-10 showdown against the Ducks, and if he's ready to make the leap and become the Buckeyes' next great defensive end, he'll be ready to step up.
Ohio State is counting on him to do so, and the man at the helm of the program's strength and conditioning program thinks he has the potential to break through.
“His ceiling's pretty high,” Mickey Marotti said in January. “He's got that high basement ceiling. Sometimes you go into those basements, they're real low, like houses that were built before 1980. He's got that 12-foot basement ceiling. He's pretty talented, so we'll see. It's early.”
With the Oregon showdown set for Week 2, we'll certainly see whether he can reach that 12-foot ceiling pretty early in the season.