Falcons: Why Zach Harrison is an underrated candidate for DROY

Zach Harrison was seen as a developmental draft pick for the Atlanta Falcons but after a strong training camp, it seems like he could be in for a big rookie year and possibly be a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year

Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins
Atlanta Falcons v Miami Dolphins / Megan Briggs/GettyImages

Zach Harrison was an interesting third-round draft pick for the Atlanta Falcons this year. Harrison has been viewed as a developmental player coming out of Ohio State but he has been making play after play during training camp and preseason.

It has sparked conversation about him having an even bigger impact as a rookie than any of us thought he would and there is reason to believe that he could be a candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

Falcons rookie Zach Harrison is an under-the-radar candidate for Defensive Rookie of the Year

The Atlanta Falcons spent a lot of money during free agency on experienced defensive linemen and edge rushers and then followed that up by taking Zach Harrison out of Ohio State who was seen as a project.

Coming out of Orange High School in Ohio, Zach Harrison was a five-star recruit and one of the top recruits in the nation. It was obviously no surprise that he committed to the Buckeyes. His recruiting profile was glowing no matter where you look.

Here is what 247 Sports said about the Falcons rookie five years ago:

"Extremely long defender with big joints that wears 245 pounds naturally. Young for his grade and will bulk up to 275 pounds with ease. Archetype, hand-down defensive end frame. Generational testing numbers at his size. Athletic versatility to play wide receiver. Uses hands effectively to read and shed in the run game. Eats up space in zone read game. Possesses twitch and suddenness and can bend the edge as a pass rusher. Speed in pursuit is elite. Very raw as a pass rusher. Still learning to use his hands and developing pass rush instincts. Doesn’t yet dominate the way his physical traits dictate he should. Potential No. 1 overall pick in the NFL Draft and definite impact Power 5 defender.

Barton Simmons, 247 Sports

You might be asking why I am revisiting these old recruiting profiles but this is what he was thought of coming out of high school. He was seen as a legit player who was predicted to be a first-round pick. Even though he was disappointing in college, he still has that potential and has been showing it in training camp.

Zach Harrison is a phenomenal athlete, especially when you consider that he is currently listed at 6'6", 272 pounds. An important trait to have as an edge rusher is a big wingspan and Harrison has an 85.5-inch wingspan which is in the 97th percentile.

In other words, he is huge, athletic, and has the length to keep offensive linemen off of him. The potential is still there and that means he has a strong chance to be an even better player in the NFL than he was in college.

Not to mention, his coach, Ryan Nielsen, has made a habit of developing big and long defensive linemen through the years. It also helps to have Calais Campbell to confide in.

However, there are two questions that remain which might challenge his candidacy for being Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The first question is will he see enough snaps to grab headlines and put up stats? It appears like the Falcons will have a heavy rotation along the defensive line so he will really have to make the most of his opportunities. If he catches fire though, Nielsen could ride the hot hand as the top pass rusher.

The second question is whether or not he can compete with other candidates like Will Anderson Jr., Devon Witherspoon, Tyree Wilson, Jalen Carter, etc. There was a lot of elite defensive talent in the 2023 NFL Draft and that means Harrison will have his work cut out for him.

Moral of the story: Zach Harrison is a dark horse for Defensive Rookie of the Year because of his size and potential.