2023 Atlanta Falcons Round 3 NFL Draft Pick: Get to Know Defensive Lineman Zach Harrison
Zach Harrison was selected by the Atlanta Falcons with their third round pick—No. 75 overall—to play defensive line for them long term. He's one of the best physical prospects in the draft, but he doesn't have the production that most pass rushers would have. The goal here for Harrison is that he could eventually become Ryan Nielsen's Atlanta version Cameron Jordan. However, this is a bit of a long shot. He may end up being more of a rotational guy in the long run, but he's worth the risk.
The Ohio State University
Athletic Comparison and Numbers
Stats and Awards
2022: 13 Games Played, 34 Tackles, 8.0 Tackles for Loss, 3.5 Sacks, 6 QB Hurries, 1 Interception, 3 Fumbles Forced, 4 Pass Deflections, First Team All-Big Ten
2021: 12 Games Played, 33 Tackles, 7.0 Tackles for Loss, 3.0 Sacks, 2 QB Hurries, 2 Fumbles Forced, 4 Pass Deflections, Second Team All-Big Ten
2020: 7 Games Played, 14 Tackles, 4.5 Tackles for Loss, 2.0 Sacks, 2 Pass Deflections, Second Team All-Big Ten
2019: 14 Games Played, 24 Tackles, 5.0 Tackles for Loss, 3.5 Sacks, 1 QB Hurry
Zach Harrison has the ideal frame for a defensive end in either a 3-4 or a 4-3. He projects well as a player who can succeed in a 6-technique, a 4i-technique, or a 5-technique. Line him up by a tackle and let him succeed. He's able to use his long frame and create outside rushing lanes as a pass rusher and has the ability to use inside moves to create counters. He has a penchant for stripping the ball from the quarterback's hands even while engaged with a blocker.
He's excellent against the run and can set the edge, even if he's not productive making the tackles himself. He's able to eat multiple blockers to free up linebackers to make plays. He also is extremely quick for someone his size. He also has a motor that doesn't quit and knows how to play his role without trying to overreach for underperforming players that might be around him. The Falcons will love the tools he brings, and his high level of potential.
Harrison's biggest issues come from just how raw he is. He has poor technique in his pass rush and he needs to learn how to create a pass rush plan. His first step off the line isn't great, and he will succeed more in a role that isn't as a true edge rusher but more of a support role where he can create pressure as a secondary guy. He needs to bulk up his lower body to create more power in his bull rush and his run defense to help with counter moves.
He does have times where he's more going through the motions as opposed to pass rushing as hard as he can. It looks like a frustration thing on film where he is getting stone-walled and just doesn't know what to do. This can be corrected with mentorship. He also needs to put more power into his tackles because he sometimes lets players slip through his grasp. He has correctable weaknesses, but the real question is whether he will see his full potential.
Intangibles & Off-Field Red Flags
Zach Harrison was a captain for the Buckeyes during his time at Ohio State and was a leader in the locker room. He's extremely clean off the field and is someone who will work for the snaps that he deserves. Harrison has the patience to sit for a couple of years before starting as shown by his time at Ohio State in a rotation for 2019 and 2020 before taking the starting role in 2021 and 2022. Harrison is the kind of guy who motivates his teammates, and that's always valuable.
NFL Stylistic Comparison: Carlos Dunlap in some ways, Cameron Jordan in others
How does he fit in with the Atlanta Falcons
Long term, the plan is for Zach Harrison to end up as more of a defensive end in both 3-4 and 4-3 looks for the Falcons. The new scheme emphasizes a traditional 4-3 defensive end even in their 3-4 looks. Harrison should be ideal for that. In 2023, he will likely be almost redshirting playing very little snaps and bulking while he gets into the ideal size and strength for the role. Atlanta has a good plan for him, but it likely doesn't include a lot of action in 2023.
Why Zach Harrison instead of Trenton Simpson, Adetomiwa Adebawore, Josh Downs or Tyler Scott?
The Falcons were looking for a long-term replacement for Calais Campbell with this pick. Campbell is somewhat the ideal fit for the role that Zach Harrison will play in Atlanta, but he's 37 years old and they needed to get a guy who makes sense past 2023. Adetomiwa Adebawore isn't that guy in Atlanta despite being an insane athlete. Trenton Simpson wasn't as good of a value on the Falcons' internal board, even though he could objectively be considered a better player.
Atlanta could have considered a wide receiver with both Josh Downs and Tyler Scott there. However, they might be looking for one in round four as opposed to round three. Because of that, they might end up lucking out and ending up with Tyler Scott at the No. 113 overall pick in round four. They have a ton of talent on the roster at pass catcher as it is, so they could also just be considering punting on a wide receiver until 2024.
All advanced stats are courtesy Pro Football Focus or Football Outsiders. All traditional stats are courtesy of official team websites, NFLGSIS or CFB Stats.All RAS and athletic testing numbers are courtesy of DraftScout.com and Kent Lee Platte's RAS Football website.