A few weeks back, I wrote an article about San Francisco 49ers linebacker Eli Harold and how he hasn’t been showing up much on film. That’s because Harold is the starter at SAM linebacker, a position that primarily creates opportunities for other players to make tackles and other big plays.
It’s a thankless job, and one that, for a time, made me think Harold simply wasn’t playing that well. But 49ers coaches disagree, enough to the point where I imagine Harold will continue to be a starter going forward, through the offseason and into next season.
“He might not show up on the stat sheet, but what Eli’s been able to do run-game wise, he’s one of the better edge setters I’ve ever been around from a SAM linebacker standpoint,” defensive coordinator Robert Saleh said. “He does provide an edge rush that forces teams to go five-O protection on us. They can’t just put a back on him. If they did it’d be a joke in my mind. He does create one-on-ones just by where he’s aligned and the amount of times that we’ve been able to blitz him.”
Harold himself said he believes he’s improved this season, and that he hopes the front office “likes what they see in me and we can keep this thing rolling,” via the San Francisco Chronicle.
“I’ve gotten a lot better in coverage this year,” Harold said. “I really feel like I’ve taken a step forward compared to the past two seasons.”
Saleh tends to agree with Harold’s sentiment. Despite Harold’s low tackle numbers combined with his low sack numbers.
“Stat-sheet wise, I’m not a big stat guy in the fact that if you just watch the tape you’ll see Eli has improved immensely over the course of the year, even since a year ago, and the guy is only 23 years old so he’s got a lot of room to grow also,” Saleh said. “I’ll never look at stats. I don’t want to pigeonhole. If we did, people would think Buck’s not a very good football player because he has whatever amount of sacks.”
That’s definitely true regarding Buckner. He sees an awful lot of double teams, and most of the defensive failings of the 49ers really can’t be put on Buckner.
Harold remains an interesting player. The coaching staff is going to have a better idea of his talent than you and I, but of course, they’re not going to come out and bad-mouth one of their guys going into the offseason. There was a point this season where I was thinking Harold might be a lost cause, but upon further inspection, he’s doing what is asked of him.
“There’s nothing he does that hurts this defense,” Saleh said.