ScarletAndGrayReport - Harrison the highest-ranked returning Power 5 defender per PFF
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Harrison the highest-ranked returning Power 5 defender per PFF

The third-year Buckeye was tied for third on the team with two sacks last season.
The third-year Buckeye was tied for third on the team with two sacks last season. (Ohio State Dept. of Athletics)

To the untrained eye, Zach Harrison’s production as a sophomore might not have routinely jumped off the field or the stat sheet. But a closer look at the analytics tell a very different story about the former five-star recruit.

According to Pro Football Focus, Harrison’s 2020 season actually earns him the highest grade of any returning defender in the Power Five conferences that played at least 200 snaps, with a mark of 88.8.

Playing in seven of the Buckeyes’ eight games during the COVID-shortened season, Harrison logged the third-most snaps among Ohio State defensive ends with 218 behind Jonathon Cooper and Tyreke Smith, but was still named a second-team All-Big Ten selection, notching two sacks, 4.5 tackles for loss, two pass defenses and one fumble recovery.

Of course, it can be difficult to measure the true impact of a defensive player based on conventional game stats alone, but many Buckeye fans hoped for a slightly more explosive season from the Olentangy Orange alum and No. 23 overall prospect in the 2019 class.

If PFF’s sky-high praise of his 2020 work is any indication though, it seems that all Harrison needs is a bit more opportunities to turn beating his man into sacks and game-changing plays.

He should get exactly that this season, as the 6-foot-6, 268-pound physical specimen figures to slide into a vacant starting spot at defensive end, and by all reports has made strides in his work ethic and leadership ahead of Year Three with the Buckeyes.

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Harrison was not the lone Scarlet and Gray performer to turn up on the list though, as 2020 PFF and CBS Sports All-American defensive tackle Haskell Garrett came in at No. 4 with a grade of 88.1.

Garrett, a fourth-year senior and first-time starter in 2020, opted to return for a fifth season in the program in 2021 in what should be a monumental boost for Larry Johnson’s defensive line. The Bishop Gorman alum tied Harrison for the third-most sacks on the team last season with two, and his disruptive play on the interior helped guide the Buckeyes to the sixth-best rush defense in the country by the end of the year, in terms of average yards allowed.

Given Harrison’s recruiting status and Garrett’s All-American credentials, the pair will enter 2021 the two biggest names among Ohio State’s front four, although Smith’s return as a presumptive starting defensive end should not be overlooked.

The only two non-Buckeyes to make PFF’s top four were Oklahoma’s Nik Bonitto and Texas A&M’s DeMarvin Leal.

Bonitto, a veteran Sooner linebacker, logged nine sacks and 11.5 tackles for loss last season, and his PFF grade is second only to Harrison’s. Leal, a sophomore defensive lineman last year, has the third-best returning grade after putting up 2.5 sacks and seven tackles for loss and an interception a season ago.