In the 3rd round of the 2023 NFL Draft, the Atlanta Falcons selected Zach Harrison, Defensive End, out of Ohio State. A 5 star recruit and nation’s #1 DE coming out of high school, Harrison was a team captain in 2021 for the Buckeyes, starting in 11 games. He improved during his senior season, receiving first team all Big-Ten honors with 34 tackles, 8 TFLs, 3.5 sacks, and 6 quarterback hurries.
Harrison’s play style is predicated on winning against the run. His 6’6" 274 pound frame acts as a brick wall against would-be blockers. He has some pass rush prowess, however it’s not refined enough for him to be an every down edge, yet. He will slot in on early downs, with AK and Dupree coming in to pass rush. The Buckeye possesses above average hands when rushing the passer, but they will need refinement & additional quickness at the next level for him to beat NFL tackles consistently.
While Fontenot and Smith didn’t attack the Edge position via draft like I expected, they got a player that fit the defense perfectly. There were already a large number of smaller, pass rush bodied players. Adding one that can stop both the run and pass was a great choice. I’m excited to see Harrison’s progression in the pass rush category. If he improves that aspect of his game, I can see him becoming the starter within the next 2-3 seasons.
Fontenot and Nielsen executed this exact gameplan with Trey Hendrickson in New Orleans. Hendrickson, Jordan’s backup coming into the league, rotating behind him and learning the ropes. Hendrickson took that knowledge and improved his game each year, and is now a 2x Pro Bowler for the Cincinnati Bengals. If Harrison could be the second coming of this model, it could mean big success for the Falcons.