How following Hall of Fame father's 'different route' prepared Cardinals' Marvin Harrison Jr. for NFL grind

TEMPE, Ariz. — When Marvin Harrison Jr. steps onto the practice field at the Arizona Cardinals’ facility for the first day of rookie minicamp on May 10, it will be his first public on-field action since Nov. 25, 2023, at Michigan Stadium.

That was all by design.

While most of the other top prospects who were drafted last month worked out at the NFL combine or had pro days — or did both — Harrison was resting his body and preparing for his first season. It was a calculated move by him and his father, Hall of Fame receiver Marvin Harrison Sr.

In January, after the top of the draft was set, Harrison Sr. and Harrison Jr. looked at the order of teams and began to roughly guess where the younger Harrison might end up.

They expected, correctly, the Chicago Bears would take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. Then they thought, also correctly, that the Washington Commanders and New England Patriots would also take signal-callers with picks Nos. 2 and 3. Quarterbacks Caleb Williams, Jayden Daniels and Drake Maye were selected in that order.

That left the Cardinals at No. 4 as the highest possible landing spot for the two-time consensus All-American.

Once the Harrisons made that determination, they began to outline a plan for Harrison Jr.’s offseason, which led his father to pose a question that decided the younger Harrison’s approach to the NFL combine and a pro day.

“Do we take this precious time in January and February to relax and get ready for a 22-week season, or do you wanna go and beat yourself up, and the best you’re gonna do anyway is go four?” Harrison Sr. said. So, we just weighed those options as a family. It’s like no matter what you do in this combine or a pro day, what’s the best can happen? And it was four.”

While the rest of his rookie class was either preparing for the non-football drills at the combine or readying themselves for a pro day in front of NFL scouts and coaches, Harrison Jr. kept his body in football shape.

He received criticism for taking what his father called “a different route,” but he’s the rare rookie heading into his first NFL season coming off a true offseason behind him. Once most draft prospects finish their college seasons, they immediately begin training for either an all-star game or the combine — or both. That leads into the pre-draft circuit of crisscrossing the country visiting teams for interviews or private workouts — or both. ESPN draft analyst Matt Miller reported Harrison visited two teams — Arizona and Chicago — and that was it.

He can already feel the dividends of his decision paying off.

“I love where my body is at right now,” Harrison Jr. said. “I love where I’m at going into the season, going into minicamp [and] into training camp. I’m just super excited because I think having him puts me in a great position to succeed come the regular season.”

The long-term goal of Harrison Jr.’s decision is to avoid the proverbial rookie wall. His former Ohio State teammates who are now in the NFL told Harrison going from what could be a 12- to 15-game campaign to an 18- to 20-game season is the biggest challenge as a rookie. Harrison is coming off a 12-game season last year at Ohio State.

Harrison will likely start as a rookie. Arizona let Marquise Brown walk in free agency, leaving the Cardinals’ receiver room thin. His addition gives quarterback Kyler Murray another weapon in an offense that could take major steps forward in 2024.

“Hopefully, come December and January, and then hopefully playoff time, I’m playing my best football because I got the rest I needed,” Harrison said.

His new coaches have already noticed and been impressed with Harrison’s approach to preparing his body for the short- and long-haul. Offensive coordinator Drew Petzing didn’t completely rule out that Harrison won’t hit the rookie wall, but he was “really pleased” that his newest receiver decided to prioritize himself to be ready to play a full season.

“He’s in shape, so he takes care of himself,” Arizona coach Jonathan Gannon said. “That’s one of the things he is very mature about [is] understanding how to handle the demands of playing that position, staying healthy and staying on the field, but injuries happen so he’ll be ready to go when he gets in here.”

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