Ohio State Buckeyes star Marvin Harrison Jr. is the best wide receiver in college football. The unanimous All-American would be a top-five pick in the 2023 NFL Draft if his eligibility was left up to NFL teams.
Harrison Jr. wasn’t always thought of this highly. The son of Pro Football Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison was a 247 Sports’ four-star recruit in 2021, rated as the 14th-best receiver coming out of high school. At the time, Brian Dohn of 247 Sports projected Harrison Jr. to one day become a third-round pick in the NFL Draft.
The 6-foot-3 receiver showed some potential in his freshman season. While he played very limited snaps, the then-freshman receiver recorded five receptions for 68 receiving yards in the regular season. It became evident in the 2022 Rose Bowl that Harrison Jr. might be something special.
Against No. 11-ranked Utah, Harrison Jr. pulled down six receptions for 71 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Despite being just 19 years old at the time, he showed great rapport with quarterback C.J. Stroud and it proved to be just the start of what was coming.
With Jaxon Smith-Njigba missing a majority of the 2022 season with a hamstring injury, Harrison Jr. emerged as the Buckeyes’ No. 1 receiver. In that role, despite sharing targets with Emeka Egbuka, Harrison Jr. put himself in the Buckeyes’ record books.
- Marvin Harrison Jr stats (2022): 77 receptions, 1,263 receiving yards, 14 touchdowns
The true sophomore finished with the fourth-most receptions in a single season by an Ohio State wide receiver and the fourth-most receiving yards in a season by a Buckeyes player. More importantly, he tied David Boston for the second-most receiving touchdowns (14) in a season throughout Ohio State’s illustrious history.
After being a unanimous All-American selection and equally deserving of the Fred Biletnikoff Award, Harrison Jr. showed up at Ohio State’s Pro Day to help Stroud and show off for NFL scouts and coaches in attendance.
“Like window shopping at a Lamborghini dealership for the model that doesn’t come out until next year.”Anonymous NFL scout on seeing Marvin Harrison Jr. at Ohio State Pro Day (H/T Jordan Reid)
In a moment when NFL teams are supposed to be focusing on Stroud and other draft-eligible Buckeyes players, all eyes gravitated toward Harrison Jr.
He was the best player on the field and he left those in attendance with reactions ranging from “Unfortunately not draft eligible” to “Incredible.”, per Albert Breer of Sports Illustrated.
“I caught myself watching Harrison today—and not the guys I should have been watching. He’s not pretty good. He’s comically good.”Second NFL scout on Ohio State wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr (H/T Zac Jackson of The Athletic)
Marvin Harrison Jr. has nothing to gain by playing in 2023
Harrison Jr. will be playing for the Buckeyes in 2023. He is committed to the program, with an opportunity to compete for the Heisman Trophy and win a national championship enticing him. However, there is truly nothing to be gained by playing another snap in college and he could lose a lot more if he suits up next season.
One small motivation for suggesting Harrison Jr. should sit out is the Buckeyes’ quarterback situation. With Stroud in the NFL, Ohio State will either be starting Kyle McCord or Devin Brown at quarterback in the fall.
“If Harrison was in this draft, he might be the favorite to be the first non-quarterback drafted. Some might think that is hyperbole, but that is how NFL teams talk about him. With every team looking for more playmakers, Harrison could be a difference-maker for a pro offense right now.The Athletic’s NFL Draft analyst Dane Brugler on Marvin Harison Jr.
McCord is a five-star recruit from Harrison Jr’s signing class and Brown was a 2022 four-star prospect. While each passer might have a promising future as the Buckeyes’ starter, neither of them will match what Stroud did last season.
While every circumstance is different, look at what happened to Sam Howell. After two seasons at North Carolina, he held a 68-14 TD-INT ratio and was a projected No. 1 pick in early 2022 NFL mock drafts. However, he played his junior season for a severely-depleted Tar Heels offense and was ultimately selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft.
Injuries can also hurt a player’s draft stock, costing them tens of millions of dollars. Because of his hamstring injury in 2022, Smith-Njigba went from a projected top-five pick to needing an outstanding pre-draft process that might keep him inside the top 20. A worst-case scenario is LSU wide receiver Kayshon Boutte, once a projected top-10 pick who now isn’t viewed as a top-100 prospect in the 2023 NFL Draft.
While the 2020 college football season isn’t the perfect comparison of top prospects sitting out, it provides some evidence that an athlete protecting their future doesn’t automatically remove them from big boards across the league.
Ja’Marr Chase, Micah Parsons, Rashawn Slater, Penei Sewell, Gregory Rousseau and Caleb Farley all opted out of the 2020 seasons. Trey Lance didn’t opt out, but he only played in one game because North Dakota State’s season was canceled.
In the 2021 NFL Draft, Lance was drafted third overall, Chase went fifth overall and Sewell was picked seventh by the Detroit Lions. Parsons (12th overall) and Slater (13th overall) were taken with back-to-back picks, Rousseau went 30th and Farley was taken 22nd despite undergoing back surgery before the draft.
Sitting out the previous season also had little impact on many of them the following year. Slater earned second-team All-Pro honors, Parsons made first-team All-Pro and won NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year, while Sewell made the All-Rookie team and Chase earned Offensive Rookie of the Year along with second-team All-Pro honors.
While Harrison Jr. would be slightly different in that there is no forgiven COVID opt-out, no one would truly fault him for protecting his future. He would be better off sitting out the 2023 season and spending the year preparing for the NFL.
As the NFL scout told The Athletic after Ohio State’s Pro Day, Harrison Jr. is so good that the scout “can probably just skip pro day here next year. I think we all saw enough today”