According to ESPN Draft Analyst Todd McShay, the Indianapolis Colts will select outside linebacker Eli Harold from Virginia with their first round pick (#29th overall) in the 2015 NFL Draft. Per his latest mock draft, which is available on ESPN Insider (subscription):
"#29 Eli Harold Indianapolis Colts (11-5)COLLEGE: VirginiaClass: Jr, HT: 6-3, WT: 235POS: OLBAnalysis: Admittedly, this is a bit early for Harold to come off the board. We have a second-round grade on him, but he is a good fit for the Colts’ defense as a 3-4 outside linebacker and he offers good upside as a pass-rusher. He’s raw but has the length, flexibility and closing burst to develop into a good all-around player, and he was productive at Virginia (15.5 sacks, four forced fumbles and two interceptions his last two years at Virginia). He’d help the Colts get more pressure on opposing quarterbacks — something they need — and would benefit from playing alongside veteran Robert Mathis"
At 6’3″, 235 pounds, Harold would join Jonathan Newsome as another young and explosive pass rusher off the edge at outside linebacker to pair with veteran sackmaster Robert Mathis. With Bjoern Werner so far a disappointment as the team’s 2013 first round pick out of Florida State, the team could look to take a pass rusher once again with this year’s first round pick.
Oct 25, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Virginia Cavaliers defensive end Eli Harold (7) stands on the field against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
Harold does seem like an intriguing prospect with 15.5 sacks the last two seasons in the ACC. However, if the Colts were to draft purely on positional need and reach because of it (which McShay alludes to with his selection of Harold), then I’d rather see the Colts go with a safety personally.
With Newsome already in the fold as a young productive pass rusher and All-Pro Robert Mathis returning from injury, the Colts are much more sound at the outside linebacker position than they are at the safety position. Whether there’s a talented enough safety on the board to warrant such a high selection is another thing entirely; however, it’s a greater positional area of need all things considered.
Last year’s starting safeties consisted of the overpaid and ineffective LaRon Landry at safety and the 33-year old solid veteran Mike Adams, who’s a free agent. While the team appears like they want to re-sign Mike Adams and rightfully so after a productive season, they would be wise to look for an upgrade over his safety counterpart in Landry
Still, pass rushers are always at a premium in a passing league that is today’s NFL, and I’ve never heard of a defensive coordinator complain that, “They have too many pass rushers“. The selection of Harold wouldn’t be a bad one because Robert Mathis is getting long in the tooth at 33 years old, and it’s unclear whether he’ll make a full recovery from both his 4-game PED suspension and season-ending torn achilles injury.
The Colts could use a young pass rusher to pair with Newsome for the long-term, as last year’s 5th round pick shined as a rookie with 6.5 sacks. Harold potentially fits that bill.
Sep 13, 2014; Charlottesville, VA, USA; Louisville Cardinals quarterback Will Gardner (11) throws the ball as Virginia Cavaliers defensive end Eli Harold (7) chases in the second quarter at Scott Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports