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49ers roster breakdowns, 90-in-90: OLB Eli Harold

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Breaking down the 90 players on the 49ers offseason roster in 90 posts (over 90 or so days). We move on to outside linebacker Eli Harold.

NFL: Preseason-Dallas Cowboys at San Francisco 49ers Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

Each year, we run a series of post called "90-in-90" here at Niners Nation. The idea is that we'll take a look at every single player on the roster, from the very bottom to the top and break them down a few different ways. This is to help give everyone a basic understanding of a roster. Of course, this roster will change, and some days we'll have more than one so it's not strictly one per day but you get the idea.

Eli Harold, a speedy pass rusher from Virginia, was widely considered a steal in the third round. He headlined the second tier of pass rushers in the 2015 draft; a draft considered by many to be rich with pass rushers. Harold brought some stylistic diversity to the 49ers, injecting speed to a pass rush that largely relied on speed-to-power techniques. When the team released Aldon Smith in August, the stage was set for Harold.

But in 337 snaps of work, Harold did a whole lot of nothing. He notched 14 tackles in 10 games and did not record a sack. Harold could not hold up as a run defender, consistently losing at the point of attack. He did start one game, filling in for Aaron Lynch, but it was a largely underwhelming effort.

Basic info

Age: 22
Experience: Second year
Height: 6’3
Weight: 265

Cap status

Entering second season of four-year rookie deal. His base salary will be $540,000, and his cap hit will be $729,343 due to a $15,000 workout bonus, and a prorate signing bonus hit of $174,343.

Why he might improve

By adding 23 pounds this offseason and reporting to mini-camp at 270 pounds Harold addressed one of his most glaring deficiencies. Even while at Virginia Harold had trouble disengaging from blocks. NFL linemen magnified that deficiency, prompting general manager Trent Baalke to specifically mention size and strength in Harold’s exit interview. Maybe I’ve got Alex Boone on the brain, but when a player puts in the effort and time to transform their body in the offseason I tend to think they will put that same kind of effort into the regular season.

Effort alone, thought, doesn’t get an outside linebacker to the quarterback. Harold possesses above average athleticism at his position. Harold’s pSPARQ score, a composite metric that measures athleticism, placed him in the 84th percentile of NFL edge rushers coming out of college. Without physical deficiencies to hold him back Harold can leverage his athleticism to generate pressure on opposing quarterbacks.

With Aaron Lynch’s suspension, Harold is slotted to start with the seemingly un-cuttable Ahmad Brooks. Playing time means opportunity and experience. Harold is just in his second offseason of transition from a 4-3 end to a 3-4 outside linebacker. Over 50% of his tackle total came in the last three games of the season, indicating some growth. And frankly, you can’t get much worse than a 0-percent sack rate. He’s got nowhere to go but up!

Why he might regress

Harold’s allure coming out of Virginia was his speed. During Harold’s final collegiate season it was common to see him speedily bending around the edge, leaving tackles in the dust.

Against NFL-level competition Harold’s speed was not the asset it was at Virginia. Adding additional weight could further render his speed rush ineffective. Losing a half-step is a big deal in the NFL and could force Harold to change how he plays the position. Rather than relying on his speed and athleticism, adding extra weight could create another barrier to success.

Then of course there’s the worst eventuality for 49ers fans: Perhaps Harold simply isn’t good enough to permanently unseat Brooks, even after Lynch returns. leaving the second year pass-rusher to toil away on the bench. Harold’s primary issue was holding up at the point of attack. Being able to set the edge requires technique, leverage, and power. Simply adding muscle isn’t enough for all of those separate components to come together.

Odds of making the roster

The 49ers typically carry four outside linebackers and Aaron Lynch is the only lock on the roster. Ahmad Brooks (and his ballooning salary), Corey Lemonier, Eli Harold, and perhaps even Tank Carradine are competing for three spots. The Lynch suspension means that everyone makes the roster initially. When Lynch returns someone from the Carradine/Harold/Lemonier group might find himself on the waiver wire. My gut says Baalke is not going to give up Harold, a third-round pick, after just one year.

Completely subjective and non-scientific probability of making the roster: 99%