UVa lost 14 players to graduation or early entry from their 2014 two-deep depth chart, and while not all of them will move on, a few should be equipped to make an immediate impact in the NFL.
The Big Three
Eli Harold, DE/OLB
2014 Statistics: 54 Tackles, 7 Sacks, 1 Forced Fumble, 1 Interception, 1 Touchdown
Projected Draft Position: Late 1st/Early 2nd Round
After opting to forego his senior year and enter the NFL Draft, Eli Harold has a shot at becoming the first Cavalier to be selected in the first round since Eugene Monroe in 2009. Harold had an excellent 2014 season, finishing 6th on the team in tackles and 2nd in sacks despite frequently facing double teams on the outside. He's also continued to improve his draft stock in post-season workouts, running a 4.60 40 yard dash (good for 6th among all linebackers and 2nd among defensive ends) and posting a 35-inch vertical. This combination of on-field and off-field performance has made Eli a possibility late in the first round, particularly for teams that employ a 3-4 defense, where he projects as a prototypical pass rushing outside linebacker. Teams to watch for include the Cardinals and Colts late in the first round as well as the Giants and Redskins in the early second if he falls that far.
Anthony Harris, S
2014 Statistics: 108 Tackles, 1 Sack, 2 Interceptions
Projected Draft Position: Third Round
Coming off of a 2013 season in which he led the nation with 8 interceptions and garnered All-American recognition, Harris faced high expectations in 2014. While his interception numbers were down last season, he still managed to finish second on the team in tackles and was named third team All-ACC. A lingering injury has held Harris out of the Senior Bowl and Virginia's pro day but he still managed to run a 4.56 40 at the combine, ranking seventh among safeties. The combination of slightly diminished 2014 numbers and his inability to show off in offseason workouts has hurt his draft stock mildly but Harris can still fill a void as a ball-hawking safety for a team in need, with possible suitors including the Redskins, Giants, Cowboys and Steelers.
Max Valles, OLB
2014 Statistics: 55 Tackles, 9 Sacks, 3 Forced Fumbles, 1 Interception, 1 Touchdown
Projected Draft Position: Late 4th/Early 5th Round
Valles's choice to leave school after his sophomore year (he prepped at Fork Union prior to enrolling) took Virginia fans, and seemingly even Mike London, by surprise. Valles came into his own last season as he led the team in sacks and finished 5th in tackles, leading many to believe he would be the centerpiece of UVa's defense in 2015. His decision to leave early was followed by a disappointing combine performance and has made Valles one of the hardest players to slot for the upcoming draft. While his performance last year warrants early round consideration, his mediocre workout results make it more likely he slips to the mid or later rounds where, much like Eli Harold, he's likely to serve as a pass-rushing outside linebacker in a 3-4.
Possible Camp Invitees
Darius Jennings, WR
2014 Statistics: 24 Carries - 115 Yards, 27 Catches - 521 Yards, 3 Total Touchdowns
Kevin Parks, RB
2014 Statistics: 189 Carries - 745 Yards, 30 Catches - 179 Yards, 6 Total Touchdowns
Henry Coley, LB
2014 Statistics: 76 Tackles, 8 Sacks, 2 Forced Fumbles
Jennings, Parks and Coley are unlikely to be drafted, but as recent Hoos Austin Pasztor and Kevin Ogletree have proven, that doesn't mean they won't find their way onto an NFL roster. Jennings's size and inconsistency are concerns, but his speed, big play ability (he averaged 19.3 yards per catch last season), and kick return prowess will make him an intriguing target for teams. Parks and Coley, on the other hand, were dependable mainstays in the Virginia program for multiple seasons. While they may not have top-end speed or great size, both have incredibly high football IQs and their consistent production will likely earn them training camp invites.
Losing this many key players will certainly pose challenges for the Hoos in 2015, but for now it's exciting to watch these players prepare to take the next step in their careers.