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Why 2023 first-round offensive tackle Anton Harrison ‘checks all the boxes’ for Jaguars

Anton Harrison, head coach Doug Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke discuss the selection.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 27 Oklahoma at Oklahoma State Photo by William Purnell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The Jacksonville Jaguars traded down twice in the first round of the 2023 NFL Draft.

First the team moved from No. 24 to No. 25 in a swap with the New York Giants, adding picks No. 160 (fifth round) and No. 240 (seventh round) in the process. Then, the Jaguars went from No. 25 to No. 27 in a trade with the Buffalo Bills, picking up an additional fourth-round pick (No. 130 overall).

Eventually, Jacksonville made its selection with the 27th overall pick and took Oklahoma offensive tackle Anton Harrison.

Following his selection, Harrison met with the media to discuss his process and how it felt to be a Jaguar.

Leading up to the draft, Harrison met with the Jaguars at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis in March. He also had a Zoom meeting with offensive line coach Phil Rauscher and some other communication with the team throughout the process.

“I talked to Jacksonville I’d say a good amount,” Harrison said. “We had a meeting at the combine. Then I had a Zoom with the O-line coach (Phil Rauscher) after the combine. We talked here and there and I feel like it was great. They told me they liked me, they liked how I played. They felt like I was a smart player.”

Harrison liked the vibes he was feeling from Rauscher and the Jaguars, and is excited to be in Jacksonville.

“I just felt the same energy from them,” Harrison said about the Jaguars. “I felt like the O-line coach was a good teacher, a good coach, and just I see how Jacksonville was going in the right direction, so it felt good.”

While some originally projected Harrison as an early Day Two pick, he gained a lot of stream heading into the draft on Thursday and ended up being a late first-round selection. While certain fans and pundits may not have expected it, Harrison was confident he would go somewhere in the No. 24 to No. 30 range of the first round.

“I definitely expected to go in this range,” Harrison said. “It was something I was prepared for. I really just didn’t know who, but I’m definitely excited it’s Jacksonville.”

Where will Harrison play along Jacksonville’s offensive line?

As for what position Harrison will play in Jacksonville, he noted that he hasn’t gotten into deep conversations with head coach Doug Pederson and general manager Trent Baalke about his role yet, however he has versatility in the trenches and projects as a right tackle.

“We really haven’t gotten into depth with that (yet), I basically told them I can play whatever you put me as,” Harrison said about his NFL position. “Whatever position that the coach puts me in, I’ll be able to succeed and excel at that position.”

With that said, Pederson made it clear after drafting Harrison that he will primarily learn the tackle position first and foremost.

“Obviously tackle is the spot to learn,” Pederson said about Harrison. “We’ll get him in here and get him going. The biggest thing is just getting him around the other guys and get him in that room, get him with Phil (offensive line coach Phil Rauscher), Coach Washington (assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington), the guys, just start the learning process. Right now, tackle will be the first primary spot for him, but as he develops and grows, just see where he can best help us win games.”

If right tackle is where Harrison winds up in Jacksonville, it will be a bit new for him. While at Oklahoma, Harrison started 23 games at left tackle and only one game at right tackle, which came during the 2022 season opener against UTEP due to a late injury on the Sooners’ offensive line.

Despite not being able to practice at right tackle leading up to that game against the Miners, Harrison said moving from the left side to the right side was “an easy, natural, switch” and that there was “no let-off” for him.

Interestingly, though, the Jaguars will be without starting left tackle Cam Robinson for an undisclosed period of time to begin the season. Robinson is reportedly facing a suspension for violating the league’s performance-enhancing drug policy, according to John Shipley of Jaguar Report. So the Jaguars could opt to play Harrison or Walker Little at left tackle in Robinson’s absence, but it seems more likely Harrison stays on the right side.

Baalke was asked if the impending Robinson suspension influenced the pick of Harrison. Baalke didn’t deny that it may have played a small role, but stated that it was more of a function of who the Jaguars had left on their board, which is why the team was comfortable moving down twice.

“Everything plays into the draft,” Baalke said. “Everything plays into the pick. But, again, I can’t stress enough, our board was set. We knew it was a pending situation for a while. But our board was set strictly on ability and the value of the player. Coach (Pederson) and I talked a lot about it, just trust the board. Let’s walk away from the first round with a player that we really like and covet, regardless of the position.

“There were multiple opportunities. If (the Robinson suspension) was that big a deal, we would obviously have made that pick and not traded back. We feel really good about how the day went. We got a lot of picks to go here in Day Two and Day Three.”

According to Baalke, Harrison was one of three guys Jacksonville was looking at late in the draft, which is why he felt comfortable trading back with those targets still remaining by the time pick No. 24 was up. Clearly, the Jaguars’ brass was very high on the Oklahoma offensive tackle.

“We felt we would still get one of the three guys we were targeting,” Baalke said about the first round. “Had an opportunity to move back again. Definitely ended up with a player that was rated very high on our board, a lot of value. There’s a lot of versatility, as well. We’ve got a plan for (Harrison), for sure.”

How Harrison’s basketball background and influences shaped his football career

Harrison noted he has leaned on and learned from former Oklahoma offensive linemen who are now in the NFL, including Marquis Hayes Jr. (Arizona Cardinals), Tyrese Robinson (Philadelphia Eagles) Lane Johnson (Philadelphia Eagles) and Orlando Brown Jr. (Cincinnati Bengals).

Additionally, Harrison hails from Washington, D.C. and has been influenced by other players from the area, such as Stefon Diggs (Buffalo Bills) and Trevon Diggs (Dallas Cowboys) and former Jaguar and current free agent Yannick Ngakoue.

Growing up, the now 6-foot-4 and 315-pound Harrison was a basketball player. He credits his basketball background for his athletic traits and prowess on the football field.

“I’d say it definitely helped a lot,” Harrison said about his basketball background. “Especially at my position, offensive line, just with my footwork, I’d say that’s the biggest thing. I feel I have good feet, fast feet, mobile, athletic. So, I just feel like that basketball background helps a lot with improving on the football field.”

Coachability and character

Pederson was asked about the coaching style Harrison received at Oklahoma and thinks it will translate well into the NFL. Obviously Harrison will have a lot to learn from Rauscher and will need to develop to find success in the NFL, but Pederson believes he has a great foundation to work with.

“You can see it in his play,” Pederson said about Harrison. “You can see it in his development. Obviously when we get our hands on him, Coach Rauscher gets his hands on him, he’ll just be able to continue what he sort of has built, what he’s put on tape. There’s a lot of consistency in his game.

“You love everything about his length and athleticism, how he moves, his strength, all things as Trent (Baalke) mentioned that will fit us. We’re just excited for Anton (Harrison) and just getting in that offensive line room, getting around the other guys in that room getting to work.”

After starting all 12 2022 regular season games on the offensive line for the Sooners, Harrison earned All-Big 12 first-team accolades by the league’s coaches and the Associated Press. He allowed just one sack and no quarterback hits in 447 pass-blocking plays, according to Pro Football Focus.

One of the big reasons that Pederson and Baalke felt comfortable selecting Harrison was because of his character. It was the previously mentioned meeting at the combine that really solidified Baalke’s feelings about the Sooner.

“For me, the interaction that we had with him at the combine stood out,” Baalke said about Harrison. “He’s a really a mature young man. Good head on his shoulders. Spoke well about a lot of things. Spoke well of his family. That was important to him, that’s important to us. Just really felt the culture fit was ideal for us.”

Baalke said that after spending time with Harrison during the pre-draft process and being able to evaluate his game, character and knowledge, it was obvious he was a good fit for Jacksonville.

“The more you get around guys, especially get your hands on them, get to feel them, especially the bigger guys, O-linemen, D-linemen, there’s some value in that,” Baalke said. “When you get the coach there, they cannot only feel the power, see them move in person, but then spend quality time with them, several hours on the board just talking to them, getting a feel for his football IQ, just his passion for the game. He’s a young man that checked all the boxes for us.”

For Harrison, he is excited to join an ascending team full of young and hungry talent with players such as quarterback Trevor Lawrence and others, and wants to do what he can to help the Jaguars accomplish the ultimate goal.

“It’s great,” Harrison said about being drafted to a team on the rise in Jacksonville. “I just see watching the games that everybody has that same mindset and wants to win, trying to get to that Super Bowl. So I’m glad to be a part of that team and try to get to that goal with the guys.”