May 10, 2010

With the draft now in the NFL's rear-view mirror and training camps in the future, it's time to take an early look at a handful of rookies who are poised to make an impact this fall. Let's take a look at Browns running back Montario Hardesty.

No team needs to revamp their offense as much as the Browns, which ranked dead last in the league last year in total yards. Although Cleveland did have a sound rushing attack, it has since parted ways with fringe Hall of Famer Jamal Lewis and has not made a firm commitment to 2010 leading rusher Jerome Harrison. This left the door open for the team to select Hardesty with its second choice in Round 2 (the seventh running back selected in April).

Hardesty was the only consistent force for the University of Tennessee last fall, and would have received better draft grades had it not been for the knee and ankle injuries that hindered him throughout his collegiate career. The 5-foot-11, 225-pound back is now to be considered part of Cleveland's rebuilding process, and a possible sleeper pick for fantasy owners in '10 ...

Dissecting the depth chart: For now, Hardesty is situated one spot behind Harrison, who finished '09 with three straight 100-yard performances, including a 286-yard effort against lowly Kansas City in Week 15. Harrison doesn't exactly have a proven track record, and will be given a short leash if he fails to produce in the early going of the season. Hardesty will likely enter camp as the No. 2 back -- ahead of non-factors Peyton Hillis and Chris Jennings -- and will be given every opportunity to compete with Harrison for reps.

Just the stats: After serving a limited role during his freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, Hardesty became the Volunteers' featured rusher as a senior and provided the team with steady production. He ranked among the top 10 in the nation in attempts (282) and among the top 20 in rushing yards (1,345). Hardesty scored at least one touchdown in 10 of 13 contests, and caught 25 passes for 302 yards. He gained more than 170 yards in November wins over SEC foes Vanderbilt and Kentucky, and had a career-best 79 yards receiving in the bowl loss to Virginia Tech. In his final two years of high school, Hardesty gained 3,911 yards.

Rookie comparison from '09:Donald Brown, Colts

Brown was expected to push Joseph Addai for playing time but it never happened and fantasy owners were left feeling cheated by his poor production (281 rushing yards, 11 catches, three touchdowns). After the hype died down, the Colts used Brown on a more limited basis than what analysts had predicted ... the same could happen to Hardesty.

Interesting fact that won't help you: At the NFL Combine, Hardesty registered the best vertical (41 inches) and broad jump (124 inches) of any running back prospect.

What he's worth: Unless he moves past Harrison quicker than expected, fantasy owners should consider Hardesty a late-round gamble -- a No. 4 back in standard leagues with the potential to breakthrough in the second half of the season.

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