2015 NFL Draft Preview: OLB Eli Harold
The Sports Quotient’s annual Draft Preview series truck on! This sixth week, the focus is on linebackers. Because many college defensive ends transition to linebacker in the NFL, we would like to clarify that all players being analyzed this week played linebacker in college and are considered as such by many draft sites. Today's linebacker prospect is Eli Harold out of the University of Virginia.
Eli Harold had a solid college career. He took over the starting LB job part way through his sophomore season in 2013 and held onto the job last year. He finished his career with 141 tackles, two interceptions and 17.5 highlight-reel sacks. He earned second team ACC honors last year and led the team in tackles for loss for the second straight year.
Eli Harold is a hybrid OLB/DE, and so his strengths and weaknesses are very common to other players who have played both with their hand in the dirt and out in space. His true strength is in pass rushing. Harold is able to get off of the line quickly and make good jumps. He is also a very good technical pass rusher in terms of body position. He has a good lean and uses his hips and shoulders well.
Harold has a variety of pass rushing moves and can use them to overcome what is sometimes seen as a lack of in-game strength. He is good at pursuing anyone with the football in their possession and always finds himself in a position to make a play. He has decent speed, finishing with a 40-yard dash time that was tied for sixth among LBs.
Although Harold fared fairly well at the combine in terms of the speed drills, the other aspects of his athleticism were middle of the pack. Among LBs he finished tied for ninth in the three cone drill, eighth in bench reps and tied for last in vertical jump.
Of those, the most troubling finish is the three cone drill. That drill tests agility in space, which will be his biggest test if he is to become a full time OLB and have to cover the talented TEs that the NFL has to offer. Harold will need to work on his pass coverage abilities and instincts at the pro level. He will also need to work on his run defense. Although he is a good pass rusher, he doesn't do nearly as well against the run. He needs to gain the ability to shed blocks more consistently and do work with his hands.
Harold is the fourth or fifth best linebacker prospect in the draft, which means that depending on need and team's individual grades for him, he will most likely fall somewhere late in the first round or early to middle second round. I personally wasn't all too impressed looking at him. He definitely seems to be a pure pass rusher, but I like my OLB to be versatile and be able to stop the run and play the pass as well. He may grow to have that ability, but as of this moment he is not a guy that I would trust to have on the field oat all times.
The best fit for Harold will be a team that intends to use him primarily as a pass rusher (at least early on), most likely a team using a 3-4 scheme. Teams that I could see taking a swipe at Harold would be the Baltimore Ravens, New Orleans Saints and Washington Redskins. All of those teams could be looking for cheap outside linebackers that can rush the passer and may find one here with Harold. Of these I would say that playing in Baltimore MD opposite T-Sizzle with the Ravens or playing in Landover, MD opposite Ryan Kerrigan with the Redskins would be the best fits for Harold.