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Harris, O’Hagan quietly building NFL-caliber resumes

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Buffalo v Temple Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

Most of the hype, media attention, and attention from scouts and general managers at the NFL level are paying attention to UB football for the presence of quarterback Tyree Jackson, receiver Anthony Johnson and linebacker Khalil Hodge, and for good reason. The trio look to have the skill sets that will translate into successful NFL careers and they are a big part of why Buffalo football is exciting to watch this season. However, there’s two names that I believe haven’t gotten as much hype or attention that are primed to join the “Big 3” in getting their names called during the NFL Draft: defensive end Chuck Harris and center James O’Hagan.

I have a passion for the sport of wrestling, I think that’s why I like O’Hagan so much. Coming out of Seaford High on Long Island, O’Hagan was a championship heavyweight wrestler, and likely could’ve made it on any of the big-time wrestling programs in the country, but, like quite a few heavyweights do, O’Hagan chose the football path and UB has been all the better for it.

After a redshirt-freshman season that saw him take over the starting duties from Trevor Sales, O’Hagan proved to be a servicable center for Joe Licata’s final season, however, according to ProFootballFocus, O’Hagan surrendered 20 pressures on the season. Since then, O’Hagan has only allowed 4 pressures in his sophomore and junior seasons combined. This season he is the linchpin for a Bulls offensive line that has yet to surrender a sack, and has only given up 7 tackles for loss.

Where O’Hagan excels is in his pass-blocking; he has the quick-twitch off the snap to engage with defenders and uses his wrestling background to help leverage himself into favorable positions so he isn’t driven back into the pocket. According to ProFootballFocus’ rankings for draft-eligible centers, O’Hagan had the highest grade in pass-blocking in the nation at 99.5 heading into the season. He also finished first in the nation in pass-blocking efficiency in each of the past two seasons.

O’Hagan has been named to the Rimington Award watchlist each of the past 3 seasons, a first for a Bulls lineman, and he should be a serious finalist candidate given his body of work.

When draft day rolls around next spring, O’Hagan is a good candidate to be a mid-round draft pick given his proficiency in pass blocking, and experience as a four-year starter in college. He’ll need to add some more weight to help with run blocking and handling the larger defensive tackles in the NFL. O’Hagan, in my opinion, could be a round 5-7 draft pick that could develop into an NFL starter down the line. In the past 5 NFL drafts, 5 centers of the 37 centers that have been drafted have been from G5 schools, and all 5 have been selected in either the 6th or 7th round. In fact, you have to go back to the 2008 Draft when Kory Lichtensteiger of BGSU was drafted in the 4th round to find a G5 center not drafted in rounds 6 or 7. While the historical draft patterns are not playing in O’Hagan’s favor of being a high round choice, I believe he has enough value to warrant a call on draft day.

On the other side of the ball, while Khalil Hodge is getting the bulk of the attention, Chuck Harris is enjoying the culmination of three years of development from reserve defensive lineman, to solid all-around defender. Last season as a full-time starter for the first time after spending the first two seasons of his career in Amherst as a rotational player, Harris enjoyed a breakout season, ranking 3rd on the team in tackles with 73 and 2nd on the team in sacks with 4. This season, Harris is showing off improved pass rush skills, netting 3.5 sacks and 2 forced fumbles, in the first 3 games, including the game-sealing strip-sack with less than a minute left against Temple.

Against Eastern Michigan this past weekend, Harris was a terror, netting 2.5 sacks and a forced fumble. The Eastern Michigan left tackle had a difficult time for most of the game setting the edge against Harris. In one-on-one battles Harris was getting a consistent bull rush driving the tackle back into the pocket to disrupt the quarterback’s progression. Harris also showed off a nifty speed rush with a nice swim move and an array of other pass rush techniques. An expanded repertoire of pass rush moves will help keep offensive lines guessing and give him an advantage in pass rushing situations.

Harris has NFL size at 6-4, 255, and a frame that could pack on more muscle in a NFL strength and conditioning program. He would be best served playing in a 4-3 base defense as a defensive end similar to the scheme that he plays in at UB. I think that Harris, if he continues his upward trend could be drafted in a similar position in rounds 5-7, or possibly higher depending on how the season progresses.

We’re only three games in to UB’s football season and draft season is a long way away, but while you’re watching the rest of the games this season, pay attention to guys like O’Hagan and Harris, because the NFL scouts that come to watch Jackson, Johnson and Hodge certainly will be.