As I continue to look at possible running back selections for Seattle in the 2010 draft, this report is about a couple of Tennessee Volunteers that Seattle might look at in the 2010 draft - Montario Hardesty (HB) and Dan Williams (DT). Originally I was going to scout just Hardesty but with DT being a weakness for Seattle - and Williams considered the best defensive tackle that doesn't play in the Big 12 - I couldn't pass up the opportunity to look at Williams (who I will discuss in a post immediately following this one).
First, though, let's start with Hardesty (6'0 215). After tearing his ACL in the 2005 season, Hardesty struggled to get regular playing time behind (Texans RB) Arian Foster. With a new coaching staff and a vacancy at the running back position, Hardesty enjoyed a breakout year - running for over 1300 yards and scoring 12 touchdowns.
Hardesty is a pretty interesting back. While he has enough speed to run outside the tackles on any given play (comparable speed to Maurice Morris), he primarily runs between the tackles and does that quite well. He runs a little high (at least somewhat due to a high-cut frame) and has only good initial quickness, but he is tough and fairly creative. He doesn't do a great job avoiding tackles behind the LOS, which is probably a pre-requisite to play in Seattle, but once he takes a couple of steps he shows a willingness to lower the shoulder as well as the vision and moves to work his way through traffic.
Most impressive is Hardesty's understanding of angles. While not a requirement to be an effective runner, a back who can consistently avoid taking the big hit is going to increase his chance of staying healthy in the NFL. Hardesty shows an understanding of that, spinning and sliding to pick up more yardage while also protecting his body. While he doesn't have the strength of a Toby Gerhart or Anthony Dixon, he does manage to fall forward just about as often.
What separates Hardesty from inside runners like Gerhart is his speed. Hardesty shows the ability to turn on the gas in the open field, at one point leaving a pretty athletic Georgia secondary in the dust for a long touchdown. He has some talent as a receiver, catching a deep pass on a wheel route and also doing a nice job splitting out wide and catching a screen pass - given his overall solid athleticism, he is an asset as a receiver.
Unfortunately, Hardesty has a couple of flaws that really do hurt him. He doesn't have any one skill that wows you. He impresses, but he doesn't fascinate. He's a solid athlete with the speed to work outside, but he doesn't threaten defenses the same way CJ Spiller or Jahvid Best does. He's a surprisingly good inside runner, but there are other backs like Toby Gerhart that are going to be more useful running inside. While Hardesty is a good receiver, he didn't impress me much as a blocker. He didn't miss a large number of blocks or anything like that, but he can be pushed back and really just tries to slow the rusher rather than stop him (due to a lack of lower-body strength).
A comparison I just can't shake is Maurice Morris. Both are taller, moderately fast backs with good moves and decent toughness, but lack the size to be every-down backs and the speed to be explosive gamechangers. They're useful, but I'm not sure they're terribly valuable. Hardesty is a back who is worth having on your team, but I'm not sure I'd spend anything earlier than a late third on him, just because I'm having trouble picturing Hardesty making a big impact at the NFL level.