Malik Harrison, LB — Ohio State
Following Kuechly’s shocking retirement earlier this month, the Panthers suddenly have a massive hole at middle linebacker. Ohio State’s Malik Harrison could be the guy to fill the void. Harrison had a huge senior season with the Buckeyes, racking up an impressive total of 16.5 tackles for loss on his way to being named a first-team All-Big 10 selection. If he can continue to grow and improve as he has the past two seasons, there’s no reason to think that Harrison can’t become an above-average starting linebacker in the NFL.
Harrison isn’t the best linebacker in the upcoming draft; however, he may just be the best senior at his position, therefore making him the best in the Senior Bowl by default. Regardless of whether Carolina is going to run a 4-3 or a 3-4 defense, linebacker–particularly inside–is all of a sudden a huge position of need. Shaq Thompson proved in 2019 that he can play inside in a 3-4, but if the Panthers return to the 4-3 look, he would likely slide back outside. The team’s only other inside linebackers on the current rosters are Jermaine Carter, Andre Smith, and Jordan Kunaszyk, none of whom are anywhere close to Kuechly’s level. Clemson’s Isaiah Simmons would be a great pick, but he’ll undoubtedly require a top-10 selection.
While Harrison isn’t a first-rounder, he would offer the Panthers a young linebacker with plenty of upside, and could wind up being a steal in the second or third round. Based on his scouting report from thedraftnetwork.com, Harrison excels at stopping the run and is a sure tackler. He is quick to recognize opposing plays, and does a good job of getting to the ball before it reaches the line of scrimmage. The big thing that Harrison needs to work on at the next level is his pass coverage. The outlook suggests that while he is fine in zone, he tends to be beaten by faster, shiftier opponents in man coverage. If Carolina can convince Kuechly to return as a coach, he likely has the potential to mold Harrison into a Pro-Bowl linebacker.