San Francisco 49ers: 5 Young Players to Watch in 2016
3. Eli Harold
Luckily for San Francisco, they ended up with Eli Harold in the 2015 NFL Draft’s third round. After picking him 79th overall, excitement hit me like I was just hit by a locomotive. As the draft process wore on that year, I certainly believed that Harold would be a high second round pick at the very least and I had him in a few first round mocks. The experts agreed as Harold was a player, from a well known school in the University of Virginia, that had two things NFL teams covet. He had pure speed, posting a 4.60 40 yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine, and pass-rushing ability. He showed these two great abilities by racking up 15.5 sacks during his sophomore and junior seasons at UVA.
While his rookie debut with the 49ers saw him go without a sack, Harold brings a ton of breakout potential into his sophomore campaign with the 49ers. So what does he have that will make his second season special?
A. Talent Level
As referenced earlier, Harold ran a 4.60 40 yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine in February 2015. That was good enough for sixth among all linebackers that year. In 36 college games, Harold came away with four fumble recoveries and three forced fumbles, meaning he is constantly around the football.
Now let’s put those numbers into perspective in NFL terms. Though the NFL game is different, and he has to prove himself in the league first, those numbers are very impressive. If a player plays 10 years in the NFL, and never misses one, they will have played 160 regular season games. Milestones for forced fumbles and fumble recoveries that players should shoot for would be 10 in a career. If Harold’s college numbers were projected into an entire NFL playing career, he would have about 17 fumble recoveries and 13 forced fumbles. You can see that pass-rush ability, speed and a nose for the football really add up to breakout potential just waiting to be unlocked in 2016.
B. Coaching and Scheme
In a 3-4 defense the outside linebackers’ primary job is to rush the passer. Pure, natural speed is so highly coveted because it can’t be taught. When a player makes it to the NFL, they can always get bigger and stronger. In fact, most college players do when they come in. Their bodies aren’t mature enough or prepared enough to take on the rigors of an NFL season.
Harold certainly fit that description coming out of college. He was 6’3″ 247 pounds, so he definitely had the height of a 3-4 outside linebacker. As we know, he also had all the measurables pertaining to speed and athleticism, but not to strength or weight on his body frame. For outside linebackers in a 3-4 defense, who rush against 300 plus pound offensive tackles play after play, it is important to have weight to match-up or strength to make up the difference. While Harold didn’t have that as a rookie, it certainly didn’t last long.
C. Work Ethic
After a successful offseason of hard work, Harold now stands 6’3″ but the difference is that he weighs 270 pounds. That’s right in the range of 250 to 275 pounds that you want a 3-4 outside linebacker to be in terms of weight.
Harold made it his goal to be in the 260 pound range back in December of last year and he has more than come through.
He was then challenged by Trent Baalke, the man who took a chance on him in the draft, to be bigger, stronger and better against the run in 2016. Here is what Harold said about his work ethic that made it all possible.
"“I cut out all the sweets and all the bad stuff and I just tried to put the right things in my body to help me out,”"
"“All my life I’ve wanted to be the best in everything I do,” Harold said. “I’m just going to work hard and let the chips fall where they may be. So whether I’m a whether I’m a starter, or whether I’m the third guy, I’m just going to give it all I got and just push those guys to get better so we can all be on the same page and help each other out.”"
Eli Harold records six to eight sacks this season and helps the 49ers secondary by constantly putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks, forcing them into mistakes. That number could rise if Aaron Lynch continues to be triple teamed on the other side. Offenses will have to adjust to San Francisco having two edge-rushers to contend with for the first time in a long time.
Next: 4. Blake Bell