Montario Hardesty, RB - Tennessee
Weight: 215 pounds
40 time: 4.55
A strong runner whose cutback ability is one of his greatest strengths, Montario Hardesty is a former top recruit whose career was riddled with injuries before having a breakout senior season. In 2009, Hardesty ran away with the starting running back job, beating out one of the top recruits in the country in Bryce Brown.
This past season, he ran for 1,345 yards and 13 touchdowns on 282 carries; he had 1,046 yards and 13 touchdowns on 278 carries over his first three years as a part-time ball carrier for the Vols.
Hardesty has excellent vision; he does a great job of finding the hole and getting through it before trying to make a play in the open field. He has good size and bulk with nice balance and he is capable of breaking tackles and gaining yards-after-contact. Montario is far better at carrying the ball between the tackles than he is at carrying the ball outside. A patient runner who does a good job of letting his blocks develop in front of him, Hardesty is an instinctive player who understands the game, but only received a real chance to prove himself and show his excellent talent and athleticism during his senior year. He’s also displayed reliable hands out of the backfield, having caught 38 passes for 411 yards and one touchdown during his career at Tennessee.
Montario was a bit of an underachiever while at Tennessee. His production was marginal before breaking onto the scene in 2009 when Lane Kiffin gave him the chance he deserved to be the every-down back. His speed is good, but not great, however he lacks the type of burst that scouts look for in a playmaking, game-changing type of running back. His quickness is also good, however he isn’t elusive in the open field and his best way to get around a defender is to run through him, rather than trying to make a play in the open field.
Durability is going to be the biggest concern with Hardesty: he tore the ACL in his right knee in 2005, which resulted in him taking the season off as a redshirt; as a sophomore he missed three games, which included the SEC Championship Game while nursing an ankle injury; as a junior he missed time with a stress fracture in his leg. If Hardesty had been able to stay healthy, then his career may have taken a far different path. I project that Hardesty will be drafted in the fourth-to-fifth round.
Montario has the talent and skills needed to be a contributor at the next level, however, to succeed in the NFL, he MUST stay healthy; teams aren’t going to be patient and wait for a mid-round pick to get back from injury while also trying to develop him as a prospect. I don’t see him as a future starter in the NFL, unless someone suffers an injury above him on the depth chart, however I think that he could be a nice change-of-pace, third-down type of back. The talent is there to make an impact in the NFL, he just needs to put everything together to become a complete player.
Notes: Montario was named second-team All-SEC as a senior. Coming out of high school, Rivals.com ranked him as the No. 100 player in the country. In high school, Montario was also a successful runner in track.
Hardesty may project to be a mid-round pick, but fantasy owners should keep an eye on where he lands. He’s a nice blend of low mileage (averaging 90 carries a season his first three years at Tennessee) and feature-back experience (strong numbers his senior year when he took over as a starter), with a skill set along the lines of Tim Hightower that would make him a nice fit as the “thunder” portion of an RBBC with a scatback. Specifically, his strengths play to a zone-blocking system where he could make one cut and turn upfield. Picture him as a complement to Julius Jones in Seattle, Steve Slaton in Houston, or Clinton Portis in Washington. And while durability was an issue for Hardesty during his first three years in college, it wouldn’t take a tremendous leap of faith to see Jones, Slaton, or Portis miss significant chunks of time and Hardesty take over as the full-time ball carrier.
It’s possible Hardesty may wind up just a camp body or depth on a chart. But if he lands with a zone-blocking team that could use a little inside muscle, Hardesty might just pay big dividends on a late-round fantasy flier. His is definitely a name to file away for late in your draft or auction.