As one of the leaders of the 28th ranked defense in the country, Eli Harold had a tremendous junior season. He is looking to capitalize on that by entering the NFL draft a year early. Eli played DE for his college (and high school) career, but seems likely to move to OLB in the NFL.
The first thing you might notice is that Eli appears to have had a better season in 2013 than he did last year. While this may be true on paper, it was not actually the case. Eli got a lot more attention as a junior, and allowed others (most notably Max Valles and Henry Coley) to greatly increase their numbers. As an all-around DE, Eli was much better as a junior. Even with the increased attention, Eli was seemingly around the ball on every day and the numbers reflect that.
Combine/Pro Day Results
Eli did most of his work at the NFL Draft Combine, but did his vertical jump and his bench press at the UVA Pro Day. The results below are a mix of the two.
|HEIGHT||WEIGHT||40 YARD DASH||VERTICAL JUMP||BROAD JUMP||3-CONE||SHORT SHUTTLE||LONG SHUTTLE||BENCH REPS (225 LBS)|
|6'3"||247 lbs||4.6 sec||35 inches||10' 3"||7.07 sec||4.16 sec||11.81 sec||24|
Eli's performance at the combine was spectacular. For a 250 pound guy to run that fast and jump that high is impressive. His 40 yard dash was T-6th among LBs and his vertical jump was T-15th. His broad jump was T-13th.
Those are almost pedestrial compared to his shuttle times. His short shuttle was 8th among LBs, and the players above him are all smaller than he is. (Only Clemson's Vic Beasley comes close to matching Eli's performance, and he's projected as a top 10 pick.) Eli's long shuttle was 9th among LBs, and again most of the guys above him are smaller.
Eli is incredibly quick for a guy his size and has a great first step. He's capable of beating an OL off the snap and getting into the backfield clean. He's also fast enough to track down a RB from the backside. He can very easily defend from hashmark to sideline using his speed. Even the most athletic QBs in the NFL wouldn't be able to run away from Eli. Also shows an impressive closing burst, which he can use to take down QBs and RBs in space.
Despite being a bit undersized, Eli possessed very good strength. He packs a good punch against offensive linemen and has shown the ability to shed blocks and make plays, even against bigger OLs. Eli isn't ever going to be a true "power" guy, his combination of athleticism and upper body strength give him a total package that should make him a very good pass rusher.
Pass Rush Arsenal
For a young guy, Eli has a nice array of pass rush moves. Oftentimes, a guy with his quickness simply relies on that initial burst to get past his man. But Eli has shown outside moves, inside moves, good hand play. Uses spins and twists to avoid blockers.
Eli is most likely going to end up playing LB in the NFL. His best fit is with a 3-4 defense where he can play OLB and rush the passer. He can be used out of a 2-point stance on most plays and even put a hand down for 3rd downs and passing situations. But on a 4-3 team, Eli is likely a DE, and there he would be small. Even for a 3-4 OLB, he's on the small side. He'll have trouble against teams that can isolate him against an OT on running plays. Eli is strong, but he's not strong enough to matchup against a 340 lb OT. He can also be knocked off balance by a good punch, and will have to work to keep his base solid.
Eli, at times, has been a lazy tackler. Especially in space, he is sometimes seen reaching. He gets to the ball a lot more than he actually makes plays. Needs to be more consistent about wrapping up ball carriers, especially RBs. NFL RBs won't go down from an arm tackle and Eli may have trouble getting them to the ground if he can't face them up.
Coming into the NFL after just 3 years of college football doesn't have to be a weakness. But, when you combine that with a (probable) position change, Eli is going to be sorely lacking in experience. The team that drafts Eli is going to have to use him intelligently early on. As he develops his skills and his body, he'll be capable of doing a lot more. His athleticism will get him by while he develops his game, but initially he'll struggle with anything beyond rushing the passer.
Possible NFL Fits
Pittsburgh Steelers - The Steelers have long been a 3-4 defense with OLBs who can get to the QB. That said, they aren't particularly deep at OLB right now and could certainly use a dose of youth and speed at the position. The Steelers have also had great success with former Wahoos and would certainly not hesitate to draft another. Most scouts see them taking a pass rusher in the first round, and Eli could be that guy.
Denver Broncos - The Broncos are also a 3-4 defense predicated on OLBs generating QB pressure. Of course, with Demarcus Ware and Von Miller at the two OLB positions, they are pretty well set right now, but Ware is nearing the end of his career, and a guy like Harold could benefit from playing behind those two guys. He would add speed to the OLB position, which would be even more of a weapon if used sparingly. The Broncos likely have bigger needs than OLB, but with a late first round pick, they may go with the best player available.
Indianapolis Colts - Yet another team that runs a base 3-4 defense (are you seeing a pattern here?). The Colts have Robert Mathis at one OLB position, but not a ton behind him. Eli could learn from watching one of the best, while also benefiting from the increased attention Mathis receives. The Colts are loaded on offense, but need help on defense. Drafting a pass rusher seems like a no brainer and Eli is projected to go at the end of the first round, right when the Colts will be drafting.
Eli most likely ends up drafted by a team that runs a 3-4 defense. He'll play OLB in that scenario. He could potentially end up as a 4-3 DE (or even a 4-3 OLB). He'd be undersized as a 4-3 DE, which would mean that his team would have to scheme to help him on running plays (or take him off the field on early downs against some teams.)
The down side to Eli playing LB is that he's been a DE for his entire career. He'll have to learn pass coverage techniques. He'll have to adjust to playing out of a 2-point stance much more often. He'll have to get used to having outside contain on running plays. He won't be able to simply put his head down and charge into the backfield.
Initially, Eli isn't likely an every down player. He'll need to add size and he'll need to learn the nuances of playing NFL defense. However, the NFL is a passing league and Eli's skills as a pass rusher are very good. He'll make an impact initially as a pass rusher, while he learns the rest of what he needs to learn.
Prediction: Eli is drafted 29th overall by the Indianapolis Colts.