(I have never been a scout or a NFL General Manager, but I am willing to watch a ton of football. By watching about 200 snaps of each prospect, we can really get a feel for a player and then know what we are talking about a bit better. It is no exact science, but the NFL hasn't quite figured out drafting either, so we are going to do the best we can.)
Eli Harold, DE/OLB, Virginia - 6'4, 250
This is the year for the edge rusher and for a team like the Cowboys who need pass "rushmen", we better get familiar with the whole bunch if we can. Eli Harold is yet another player who is highly regarded for being an athletically-inclined talent who you can clearly see flashes of everything you look for on Sundays. When you read his background, it all seems to make sense as he is an exceptional track star in high school with the events that require explosion and speed. To study his work, I watched the following Virginia games from 2014: UCLA, Virginia Tech, Pittsburgh, and Louisville.
What I liked: He has top level quickness and explodes out of his stance at times and if you dare run the zone read at him (UCLA) and decide to leave him as the unblocked man to read off, you will quickly see that he is athletic enough to stay home and wait you out before pouncing. His pass rush at its best is elite. He also can chase down a QB or a RB who is headed to the opposite sideline in a blur that dazzles. Very impressive ability to squeeze between gaps as well and not lose his balance or his momentum.
What I did not like: Unfortunately, there were too many times when we did not see his elite ability and this is a good lesson, perhaps, in watching enough of his tape that you aren't completely mesmerized by the 10 best plays of his season. Like some others we have profiled, we wonder why in some games he looks like a 1st rounder and in others he looks like just another guy on the field. In the UCLA and Pitt games, he really never troubled the Left tackle and made them uncomfortable. He doesn't seem to have much of a plan if the quickness doesn't get him past his man. He seems to have none of that functional power that makes edge rushers who can convert from speed to power and back so dangerous. If you only have quick, then the offensive lineman across from you can quickly learn and react for the remainder of the day. This doesn't mean that a young player like Harold can't get stronger and figure out a better arsenal of moves, but at the present, he isn't close. He also gets stuck on blocks and when a tackle gets a hand on him, he is eliminated from the play way too often - relative to some of the others we have studied. I wish there was just more production. He had 7 sacks in 2014, with 5.5 of them in September. That means there was 1.5 sacks in the final 7 games for a guy who is going against college left tackles. I need more.
Summary: To me, this is another case of a player who has incredible natural talents that a coaching staff might see and be confident that they can work him into a stud. But, in the case of this exercise where the number #1 rule is to "trust your eyes", I must tell you that I wanted to see much more consistency in his game and power to use when needed. He does look like you would expect a track guy to look when he plays football. Very "toolsy", but not physical enough when the play is right at him and not enough power to be feared and schemed around. I definitely see what people like, but there wasn't enough to say that he belongs as a 1st rounder for me. I would say, depending on the game you grab, that he is a Top 30 guy on many occasions (Louisville), but unfortunately, just a Top 100 guy just as often.