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2013 Virginia Football Roster Profile: Eli Harold

With one week remaining until the season begins, we get the profile one of the most exciting players on the team. Eli Harold was recruited by just about everybody in the nation, but chose to stay close to home. He's a naturally gifted athlete who is still learning how to play DE. He put up pretty good numbers last year, mostly as a reserve. He's a popular choice for breakout player of the year, and could easily put up double digit sacks.

Eli should get plenty of hits on QBs this season.
Eli should get plenty of hits on QBs this season.
Peter Casey-USA TODAY Sports

Position: DE
Height: 6'4"
Weight: 230
Hometown: Virginia Beach, Va
High School: Ocean Lakes HS
Year: Sophomore
Twitter: @Eli_UVA7

Universally hailed as one of the top prospects in the nation, and easily the top recruit for the Hoos in the class of 2012, Eli Harold came to grounds with expectations as high as anybody in probably a decade. Rated a 5 star recruit by Scout, 4 stars by ESPN and Rivals, he was one of the highest rated recruits the Hoos have had under Mike London. Scout ranked him the #1 OLB in the nation, and #26 player overall. Rivals ranked him the #5 DE and #50 player overall, and ESPN ranked him the #15 DE and #124th player overall.

The disparity in those rankings is interesting. The highest rating he was given was as an OLB. But Harold has always been a DE. If he'd gone to play for a 3-4 defense, he would've lined up at OLB, but having never played the position before, it would've been a much steeper learning curve. A guy with Harold's explosiveness should be tasked with one job. Rush the passer. That's all. The Hoos simply plugged him in last year behind Bill Schautz, and let him loose. He played in all 12 games, finishing with 36 tackles, 2 sacks, 7 TFLs, 1 forced fumble and an INT. This, despite being a part time player for most of the year and starting just 4 times. He was raw and he was undersized, but he was one of the best linemen on the team.

Amazingly, some teams looked at Harold as a WR/TE type. He played QB, RB and WR in HS, racking up 41 receptions for over 700 yards as a senior, and also rushing for another 400. But, as explosive as he was on offense, Harold was a DE through and through. He's so quick off the ball, he can often get around the OTs outside shoulder in just a single step. Once he's there, he has the closing speed to finish the play. He's got plenty of strength and can bull rush, but this is most effective against a TE. OTs are too big and strong and he struggled when he lets the blocker get into him. He's still developing pass rush moves, which will only make him more dangerous. As he develops, watch out, because he could turn into a devastating pass rusher.

Harold reminds some people of Jevon Kearse. Kearse was truly a freak athlete, and probably had more straight line speed than Harold does. Kearse, in fact, started his college career at DB. Harold was never fast enough for that. But both have similar frames and quickness off the ball. Harold is actually more developed as a pass rusher than Kearse was at this point in his career. Kearse had the benefit of a redshirt season, but put up similar numbers as a redshirt freshman to what Harold did last year. If Harold develops at a similar rate to Kearse, he could follow Kearse as a first round pick and NFL star.

This season, new DC Jon Tenuta is going to be counting on Harold to be his primary pass rusher. Harold is likely to see plenty of double teams, but if Tenuta's defense is firing on all cylinders, that will just open up rushing lanes for other players. If Harold gets single teamed, he's going to be dangerous. He's still learning, and could struggle with some of the better OTs he'll face. He also needs to learn to play under control, especially against running teams. But he's a smart guy who knows what he needs to do, and he's got some good teachers (not the least of which is head coach Mike London, a former NFL DL coach). Harold could well finish with double digit sacks, and will probably lead the DL in tackles.