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Cowboys 2015 Draft Targets: Virginia DE Eli Harold

Because there has been such a high correlation in recent years between the top collegians invited to Valley Ranch for pre-draft visits and who the Cowboys end up drafting, it's important to know as much as possible about these players. As a service to you, BTB offers a series of detailed scouting reports on these players, compiled from the work of top draft analysts. Today, we look at Virginia DE Eli Harold

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Eli Harold was rated as the top prep player in the state of Virginia coming out of high school in 2011, deciding to stay in-state and play for the Cavaliers. As a true freshman in 2012, he earned significant playing time in a reserve role before becoming a starting defensive end in 2013, leading the team in tackles for loss (15.0) and sacks (8.5). In 2014, Harold again led the team in sacks (with seven) and TFLs, earning Second Team All-ACC honors. He finished his career in Charlottesville with impressive disruption totals: 36.5 tackles for loss and 17.5 sacks

In the Cavs defense, Harold played both defensive end (2013) and 3-4 OLB (2014), although scouts feel he is best with his hand on the ground. Harold is an explosive player (as evidenced by his 4.6 forty and 1.56 second 10-yard split) with elite traits: terrific upfield burst and the ability to threaten the edge and bend the corner at speed. Plus, he has a nonstop motor, hustling and chasing ballcarriers down the line. Moreover, he has surprising strength at the point of attack for a guy who checks in under 250 pounds, with the hands and length to become a good to very good edge-setter.

That said, he's very raw. As a pass rusher, Harold really has only one move: win with speed. He doesn't seem to have a plan and needs to marry together his athleticism, power and technique more effectively to realize his potential at the next level. In short, he's god a belt-full of tools, but needs to understand which tool is best for each job.

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Want to scout like a boss? Let's start by looking at Harold's measurables:

Height Weight Arms Hands 40yd 10yd Bench Vert Broad 3Cone 20ss SPARQ (%)
6' 3" 247 33" 9⅜" 4.60 1.56 -NA- 35" 123" 7.07 4.16 132.9 (84)

And here they are in the form of a spider graph, courtesy of the folks at Mockdraftable.com:

Clearly, Harold is undersized for the position. Still, its important to remember that the elements that matter most in this scheme are quickness and explosion - precisely where he shines above. Does hit tape support this? Over at Draft Breakdown, they have six of Harold's games for your visual degustation. Watch him in action against Louisville (2 sacks), Pittsburgh (3 tackles), and Miami (2 tackles). Also, watch him go head-to-head with Florida State's Cameron Erving (another 2-tackle game).

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Let's see what our esteemed panel of scouts has to say about Harold:

Gary Horton (ESPN.com) 4th-ranked OLB; 31st overall:

Instincts/Recognition: Upfield player whose ability to make more complicated reads and play off the line needs to be investigated further by teams. Tape gives reasons to be optimistic. Locates and tracks the ball well as a run defender. Flashes good awareness during the few times he dropped during a four-game evaluation.

Take-on Skills: Lean lower body and gives ground to offensive linemen when he plays high, but strong and long enough to set hard edge when he keeps pads down. Good shock in hands. Jars blockers with initial punch when he gets hands inside and flashes ability to disengage quickly -- although there's still room for improvement in this area.

Range vs. Run: Above-average effort chasing. Above-average range and closes well enough to chase down a lot of backs on a straight line. Room for improvement when it comes to angles and struggles to recover from sub-par angles. Adequate job of fighting through trash.

Tackling: Appears to have good length and can ride ball-carriers to ground once latched on, but also slips off of would-be tackles. Doesn't drive through contact and leaves feet early a little too much. Inconsistent open-field tackler who needs to play with better body control.

3rd Down Capabilities: Keeps offensive tackles off-balance by varying approach as a pass-rusher. Above-average initial quickness. Adequate bend and closes well. Foot speed and instincts to quickly redirect inside when offensive tackles open to the outside. Transfers speed to power when rushing from a wide alignment. Doesn't always counter well when offensive tackles get hands inside. Inconsistent fighting off cut blocks. Looks to knock ball out on speed rushes and offensive tackles try to ride him past quarterback. Gets hands up in passing lanes. At best attacking upfield, but appears to have enough range and athletic ability to play 3-4 OLB and possibly strongside outside linebacker. Flattens and gets outside quickly when picking up backs releasing into the flat.

Intangibles: Nephew Forrest unexpectedly died of an enlarged heart while playing basketball in November 2010. Condition had gone undetected. Mother Sheila Korvette passed away from pancreatic cancer in January 2011. Brother, sisters and his mother kept the diagnosis from him until a few days before she died. African American studies major. Brother is father figure to him. Brother also admits to dealing drugs and was convicted of cocaine possession in 1991 before becoming religious.

Dane Brugler (CBSSports.com) 4th-ranked OLB; 36th overall:

Strengths: Quick starter out of his stance with burst and long-striding acceleration. Launches himself like a track athlete from his three point stance, keeping his pad level low with proper leverage. Agile feet to sidestep blockers in space and terrific speed in pursuit to chase down ballcarriers. The motor never quits, always going full-speed to the ball until the whistle. Does a nice job re-setting his eyes after his initial rush doesn't work, showing natural dip to turn the corner around the tackle without slowing down. He is at his best when using his length to extend, lock out and drive blockers backwards. Productive career with 24 starts under his belt.

Weaknesses: Lean and lanky build with average bulk and needs to develop his upper and lower body strength. Rushes too upright and needs to show more consistent bend. Average functional power and needs to more consistently avoid bodies near the line of scrimmage, too easily slowed by contact. Better pass rusher than run defender and needs to do a better job holding the edge. Hand technique needs work to better stack-and-shed and untie himself from blockers. Hyperactive and needs to be more efficient with his movements to eliminate wasted momentum. Will get too far upfield at times and creates more ground to cover for himself. Shows flashes of burst, pop and pass rush moves, but doesn't consistently marry his athleticism, power and technique together from snap-to-snap. Limited experience dropping in space or playing in reverse.

Compares to: Ezekiel Ansah, Lions -- Going by simply the size measurements, they are very different players, but Harold shows flashes of a smaller version of Ansah with his natural athleticism, length and raw skill-set. Harold is unlikely to be a top-five pick like Ansah, but there is similar intrigue.

Lance Zierlein (NFL.com) 4th-ranked OLB; 25th overall:

Strengths: Angular with muscular arms and surprising strength. Rushed with hand in ground and standing up. Fires out of stance with forward lean, gaining ground quickly with his first two steps. Edge rusher who torques upper body around edge, giving tackles limited area to punch. Sinks hips, dips shoulder and trims the edge when he gains advantage around corner. Also has efficient, quick inside move to pressure quarterback. Memorable closing burst. Impressive, accurate hand usage with little wasted motion as pass rusher and uses hands to snatch and shed against run. Potential to be outstanding edge-setter against tight ends. Skinny and slippery through creases on twists and B-gap blitzes. Changed direction easily and will pursue like a wild man in space.

Weaknesses: Thin waist and lower body lacks mass. Shredded body -- and might struggle to add more good weight. Play strength is below average as pass rusher. Can be jostled and redirected by a quality punch. Has to work overtime to disengage from tackles with strong hands. Needs to get a little better at keeping offensive linemen off of him. Instincts below average. Gets to many more plays than he is converting. Will need to improve feel for the outside-linebacker spot and become a more consistent finisher. Needs more experience in space and in coverage.

NFL Comparison: Olivier Vernon

Bob Sturm (Dallas Morning News):

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.

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Our panel is in fairly close agreement on Harold, rating him from 25th to 36th overall. Given that this is precisely the part of the draft - the "bend" between the late first and early second rounds - where grades tend to flatten out, we can say with even more confidence that they view him similarly. Given that this is the bend, the real question is where to slot him on my "little board"? Since I've already put Bud Dupree and Owamagbe Odighizuwa in round one, and think they are both a hair better than Harold, I'll put him in round two, but not without great confidence that he won't be drafted in the first 32 picks.

As has oft been noted, quarterbacks and the guys who chase them both get pushed up on draft day. So, there's a good chance that Harold, with his unrefined but pro-caliber athletic toolkit, could end up being selected just after the Cowboys pick at 27. He's reportedly visited or worked out for 14 teams, including the Saints (31st pick), Patriots (32), Jaguars (36), Jets (37), Bears (39) and Browns (43). In short, if the Cowboys get him it'll have to be at 27, or with a trade down into the early second round.

If the Cowboys select him at 27 (a legitimate possibility since it seems clear they want to leave the early part of the draft with a defensive end), I won't be gnashing my teeth on draft day - although I'd be much happier seeing them grab him after a trade back into the early second, or, best case scenario, with the 60th overall pick. If the Cowboys are able to get Harold with their current second-rounder? After getting him through that cluster of interested parties above? Heck, Ol' Rabble will go out into the street and dance around wearing nothing but a Troy Aikman-autographed football helmet...

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Next up: Florida State DE Mario Edwards, Jr.