If Harrison Phillips starred in the SEC or Big Ten, every draft fan in the country would know his name and, assuming he checks out medically, would likely be universally regarded as a first round pick.
Give fans (and the national media) a few months to catch up. After all, too few recognized the brilliant play of Phillips' former teammate - Solomon Thomas - until he terrorized Mitchell Trubisky in the Sun Bowl last year.
A year after Thomas dominated the conference and rose all the way to No. 3 overall (San Francisco) in the 2017 draft, Phillips sprouted his own roots for the Cardinal, emerging as a mighty oak in the middle for a Top 15 Stanford squad. Phillips' combination of raw strength, leverage and a relentless motor helped him lead Stanford in tackles, tackles for loss, sacks and forced fumbles - all from his defensive tackle position and while being the obvious focus of every opponents' blocking scheme.
Entering the 2017 season, it was fair to question whether Stanford had a defensive lineman on the roster capable of filling the huge shoes left behind by Thomas. To be fair, Phillips looked like a future NFL draft pick playing alongside Thomas in 2016, recording a very respectable 46 tackles, including 9.5 for loss and 6.5 sacks and earning Honorable Mention All-Pac-12 honors from league coaches. With the possible except of Phillips, no one, however, expected him to explode the way he did in his fourth year on campus.
Almost immediately it was clear there was a new sheriff in town for Stanford in 2017. Though Southern Cal won the conference opener against Stanford September 9, Phillips outshined potential No. 1 overall pick Sam Darnold, roaming all over the field like a maniacal middle linebacker and registering a team-high 11 tackles. It was more of the same in Stanford's next game - a surprising loss to San Diego State - with Phillips again registering a team-high 11 tackles, including half a sack.
Regardless of the opponent, Phillips' power and motor stood out. Better yet, in the games against top competition, he was his most disruptive, recording five tackles, a sack, a forced fumble and a blocked field goal against Josh Rosen and UCLA, a team-high eight tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and a sack in a loss to Washington State, four tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss against Washington, seven tackles, including a season-high three tackles for loss and two sacks against Notre Dame and its vaunted offensive line and once again stealing the spotlight (for those paying attention) in another showdown with Darnold and USC in the Pac-12 championship game, recording a career-high 13 tackles, including half a sack.
Phillips' rise is all the more impressive given that he missed virtually all of the 2015 season after tearing his ACL in the season-opener against Northwestern. It looked like a case of deja vu in 2016 when he suffered another knee injury in the opener against Kansas State. This one, fortunately, did not result in any ligament damage and after missing the Pac-12 opener (USC), Phillips returned to the field, not requiring further surgery.
Phillips wore a brace on his right arm and both knees, at times, in 2017 but played in every game. The medical grade he receives from team doctors at the Combine could the biggest obstacle left for Phillips to overcome to becoming Stanford's fourth consecutive first round pick along the line of scrimmage, following Thomas, OG Joshua Garnett (San Francisco) and OT Andrus Peat (New Orleans).
Phillips was universally ranked as one of the elite prep prospects out of the state of Nebraska in 2013. As a senior, he was named the Gatorade Player of the Year for the state of Nebraska as well as the honorary captain of the Super State First Team. His career totals look like something out of a video game with 295 tackles (188 solo), 80 tackles for loss, 34.5 sacks and 23 forced fumbles. Phillips was a standout wrestler and track and field star in high school. He earned a trip to state as a freshman and won the state title his next three years, winning national championship honors as a sophomore (220 pounds) and junior (heavyweight). Phillips also finished fifth in the discuss throw at the state meet his senior year. Further, Phillips is no blockhead athlete, twice earning Academic All-Metro honors in high school and is currently on pace to graduate in four years as a double major (Sociology as well as Science, Technology and Society) at Stanford. To top it off, this year he was one of 11 players across the FBS named to the AFCA Good Works Team, one of the most coveted off-field awards in college football.
The power, balance and competitiveness that helped Phillips become a three-time state champion and two-time national high school wrestling champion is obvious in his junkyard dog style of play. Compactly built with broad shoulders and anvils for limbs, Phillips' game is all about power. He can walk guards back to the quarterback with his leg drive on the bull rush and does a terrific job of ripping through blocks to disengage as ball-carriers come near him.
Phillips exhibits good initial quickness off the snap, including the burst to split gaps and penetrate. Better yet, he shows a sense of timing and instincts, showing a second gear explosiveness in short yardage situations, truly firing off the ball. He sprawls his legs and anchors quite effectively for a player less than 300 pounds, holding his ground against double-teams from even accomplished offensive lines (Notre Dame, Washington - 2017). Phillips locates the ball quickly and pursues hard to the boundaries and even downfield, showing surprising lateral agility and balance given his blocky frame, as well as sheer determination. Phillips comes with off the charts intangibles grades. Gained nearly 50 pounds of muscle during his career at Stanford and showed toughness and resiliency in battling back from knee injuries, including the ACL tear in 2015 that ended his season almost immediately. A double-major on pace to graduate, he was voted a team captain in 2017 and one of 11 FBS players named to the AFCA Good Works team. - Rob Rang 12/19/2017
A bit smaller than scouts would prefer and may not possess the frame to handle much additional weight. May lack ideal arm length. Shows good but not elite initial quickness and flexibility to split gaps as an interior pass rusher despite gaudy statistics. Production enhanced by twists and stunts which freed him up to swing out wide against tackles ill-suited to handle his bull rush. More of a try-hard performer than an elite athlete and may be tapped out in terms of upside. -- Rob Rang 12/19/2017
COMPARES TO: Hall of Famer Dan Hampton, Bears. Hampton earned the nickname "Manimal" or "Danimal" for his ferocious style of play over 12 seasons - including four Pro Bowls - in Chicago. Phillips' relentless, physical and aggressive style deserves a similar moniker and could earn him a first round selection, though not likely as high as the bigger, leaner 6-5, 264 pound Hampton (No. 4 overall) was back in 1979.
IN OUR VIEW: Phillips won't measure as the biggest or fastest defensive tackle in 2017 but with his combination of power, balance and motor he certainly ranks among the safest. Quick and instinctive enough to be a nuisance to quarterbacks as an interior pass rusher and strong enough to handle double-teams, Phillips projects well to the NFL almost regardless of scheme. As such, don't expect this Cardinal to fall from the tree Thomas sprouted late last year, as a fast-rising first round pick and future NFL standout.