Summary: The 2015 NFL Draft features a strong group of edge rushers, and one who has gone under the radar to a degree is Harold. While he hasn't received a lot of media attention, Harold stands a good chance of being a late first-round pick.
Harold was a steady pass rusher for the Cavaliers over the past two years. He made a big impact as an edge rusher for Virginia in 2013 as a first-year starter, totaling 8.5 sacks with 15 tackles for a loss, 51 tackles, two forced fumbles and a pass broken up. That season was highlighted by his three-sack game against rival Virginia Tech.
Harold stayed consistent with his production in 2014, recording 54 tackles with 14.5 tackles for a loss, seven sacks, two passes batted, one interception and a forced fumble. The junior had strong showings against UCLA, Louisville and North Carolina. He also had a good battle with Miami left tackle Ereck Flowers, a future first-rounder.
Harold played defensive end for Virginia, but he will have to move to outside linebacker in the NFL. Harold simply doesn't have the size to play end in the NFL. In a 4-3 defense, he would have to be a Sam (strongside) linebacker on running downs and move to rush off the edge in passing situations. That makes him a bit of a tweener for a 4-3 defense, and he would fit better as a 3-4 defensive end.
As a run-defender, Harold is at his best when he using his speed to get upfield and cause disruption in behind the line of scrimmage. Harold does well in pursuit as well, and can chase runners down from behind. He's going to need to add strength to hold up on runs that come downhill straight at him for the NFL.
Harold's pass-rushing skills are what have him as a potential Thursday night pick. He is fast off the edge with the ability to convert speed to power. Harold is quick to fire off the line and get upfield, plus has active hands to fight off blockers and close on the quarterback. He had seven sacks in 2014, but he put more pressure on the quarterback than that total indicates, and it wouldn't be surprising if he is a more prolific sacker as a pro. Harold can give offensive tackles fits as he is hard to get a hold of. He is a speed rusher who also has some fight to him; all while being is a gritty defender who doesn't shy away from getting physical.
For the NFL, Harold should be drafted by a 3-4 team and used to hunt quarterbacks. He could be an appropriate value pick as a late first-rounder.
Player Comparison: Cliff Avril. The way Harold rushes off the edge reminds me of Avril. Avril (6-3, 260) is a speed rusher who can make a real impact in the backfield. Harold is fast off the edge, and once he gains weight in an NFL strength program, he could end up playing close to Avril's playing weight. They both also can be challenged in the ground game, too. Avril has just one double-digit sack season in his career, but has been close three other times. I could see Harold being a similar NFL player to Avril.
NFL Matches: Cleveland, New Orleans, San Diego, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Arizona, Dallas, Indianapolis
There are a number of a lot of teams in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft that could target an edge defender like Harold. It would help him to go earlier if there is a run on pass-rushers in the first 20 picks, and that is very possible. The Browns are just one team that could use a pass-rusher. Harold could interest Cleveland in the first round with its second selection if there is a run on pass-rushers going on.
If the Saints go a different route at pick No. 13, they would make a lot of sense for Harold at pick No. 31. He could be a nice upgrade to New Orleans' pass defense.
Harold could interest the Chargers. They need to replace Dwight Freeney, while Melvin Ingram and Jeremiah Attaochu have yet to break out for them.
Harold could go in the early 20s when the Bengals and Steelers are on the clock. Both of them need edge rushers, and Harold could be a welcome addition to either AFC North team, especially Pittsburgh. The Steelers can't rely on James Harrison forever, and Jarvis Jones has yet to prove that he's a long-term building block in Pittsburgh. Harold could be a great fit for the Steelers' defense.
In Cincinnati, the Bengals have to upgrade their pass rush because Michael Johnson isn't enough. He's had two down years in a row, while Margus Hunt has been a disappointment. Harold could be the edge rusher to pair with Carlos Dunlap.
Arizona is another playoff team that could stand to improve its edge rush. The Cardinals need a replacement for John Abraham, and improving the speed and athleticism of the linebacking corps was an offseason priority for the franchise. Harold would certainly address that.
Dallas could opt to take another edge rusher to go with Demarcus Lawrence. Greg Hardy was only signed to a 1-year contract and can't be counted on to stay on the field.
The Colts could use more edge-rushing talent. Bjoern Werner has been a disappointment, while Robert Mathis was missed sorely in 2014. Harold would make sense for Indianapolis.