Is Montario Hardesty Tom Heckert’s Big Miss?

Montario Hardesty is slowly seeing his name etched into the side of the seemingly mile-long stretch of stone. It’s a slab rife with names of second-round draft selections who merely never seemed to get it together and excel inCleveland. The reasons are boundless, but in this instance more than any, Hardesty’s fate is in his own hands. Or knees. Or calf.

Chaun Thompson was clearly overdrafted. Eric Wright fizzled after a solid rookie campaign. Brian Robiskie was not as NFL-ready as the pundits claimed. David Veikune was David Veikune. And now we have a situation where Hardesty, an all-purpose back for whom the team traded up, could be on the outside looking in, already behind 2011 free agent back Brandon Jackson and potentially fending off Chris Ogbonnaya, the mid-season addition who amassed 334 yards on the ground in 11 games.

The flashes have been there for all to see. Following a rookie season which was essentially over before it started, Hardesty stepped in for an ill Peyton Hillis and led the Browns to a 17-16 win over the Maimi Dolphins. In doing so, he averaged nearly five yards per carry and caught three passes for 20 additional yards. A few weeks later, the former Volunteer added 95 more yards in a 33-carry effort against the Seattle Seawhawks – the result, another win.

But the knees which were laced in red flags on draft day coupled with the calf injury which forced him to miss multiple games in 2011 have turned the one-time hopeful running back of the future into a gigantic red letter X on Tom Heckert’s otherwise solid draft record. Selected only six spots behind one LeSean McCoy1, the second-round gem unearthed by Heckert during his days in Philadelphia who is presently one of the most productive backs in the league, it’s safe to assume that the team thought they would be getting an equally explosive, pass-catching option to bolster the weaponry in Berea. Little did they know, they would be forced to address the same position just two years later and trading up to do so.

Since his arrival, Tom Heckert has added quality talent to a roster that was littered with aging veterans and special teams standouts. For a list of names that Heckert has acquired via the NFL Draft – this team’s obvious means for improvement – all one has to do is scan the starting 22 players; Joe Haden, Phil Taylor, TJ Ward, Jabaal Sheard, Greg Little, and Shaun Lauvao are all starters, and Colt McCoy, the third-round prayer, was the starting quarterback for roughly a season and a half. Even Eric Hagg, last year’s seventh-round pick is vying for a starting gig. The lone name missing from this otherwise flawless slate of top-round drafting: Montario Hardesty.

Hardesty knows he has his work cut out for him. He’s changed his jersey number, has attended optional team activities and looks strong and hungry to show that the team did not make a mistake two springs ago. To his benefit, his prime competition in Jackson was also not the model citizen of health, missing the entire year with a toe injury which was sustained in preseason.

Browns head coach Pat Shurmur feels that there will be enough preseason plays to go around and that all three backs — Hardesty, Jackson and rookie Trent Richardson – will “get their reps,” but how these snaps are divided up remains to be seen. Both Hardsty and Jackson are still walking around Berea without the aid of a walking boot or a set of crutches, so things are definitely looking up.

But just as Wright gave way to Joe Haden, Robiskie was a casualty of the team making Josh Cribbs a wide receiver coupled with the emergence of Jordan Norwood, and Veikune was ousted for a little-known, undrafted pass-rusher named Marcus Benard, the NFL’s window of opportunity remains as tight as ever. Factor in the shelf life of your typical running back and, when it comes to Hardesty, Heckert’s second-round play-action is slowly looking more like a Hail Mary.

In two short years, Montario Hardesty has gone from Jamal Lewis replacement to sunk cost. The Browns have managed to win just nine games in the interim.

(John Kuntz / The Plain Dealer)

  1. whom was right there for the having when the Browns opted to go with Robiskie []

  • mgbode

    just glad that he looks like the ONLY miss in the top2 rounds since Heckert has been drafting.  here’s hoping that continues with Richardson, Weeden, and Schwartz.

  • BenRM

    I think people wouldn’t mind the pick as much if they hadn’t moved up a few picks to get him. 

    But since they did, it acts as salt in the wounds.

  • 5KMD

    I think they could get a Chris Ogbonnaya anytime they wanted to. I would still keep Hardesty uless he completely implodes.

  • That’s a very good point.  If we check all the NFL teams over the past 3 years, I bet more than 1 pick per team in the 1st or 2nd rounds has been a bust.  I like the numbers here for us.

  • AMC

    Veikune was an AWFUL pick when it happened and Hardesty was at best, a very questionable pick (especially given that they had to trade up to get him) at the time it happened.  To have to spend 2 picks in 3 years in the top 2 rounds of the draft on RB is a disappointment, especially when you had a Pro Bowl caliber rusher that you didn’t draft on the team in year 2…

  • Joe Murphy

    The jury is still out on most of Heckert’s picks besides Joe Haden and TJ Ward. Sheard and Taylor might be good, Hardesty might be bad. Pinkston might develop, Jordan Cameron might never play, etc.

    But I don’t see how we have given him the consensus of ‘solid draft record’ in his tenure in Cleveland. Unless we’re using Browns draft history as the extremely low bar he must hurdle.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Agreed.  I think they need/should keep him around just as a body.  In the meantime you never know maybe the light will go on and he’ll understand what it takes to be a RB in the NFL and more importantly, his body will allow it.

  • johnnyk124

    You should flip-flop ward and sheard in your analysis of who’s good and who the jury’s still out on.

  • mgbode

    Yes, I’m sure there are a few other teams in the same situation as us, but it feels good to be on the positive side for once with the Browns.

    One of the biggest reasons that we could never even become a consistently mediocre club is that we spent too many high picks on the Courtney Browns, William Greens (everyone listed at the top of this article), etc. in the first 2 rounds that should have been easy picks.

  • mgbode

    his round 3 through 7 drafting can be up for debate.  I doubt you find many more teams with as many starts out of those guys, but we had such a lack of talent to start that it’s a circular argument.   time will tell on those guys like Pinkston, Lauvao, Hagg, etc.

    But, I have a hard time giving him anything other than a stellar grade for the top2 rounds of the draft.  He got solid value trading down with Atlanta, we have rebuilt our defense and started the process of rebuilding the offense using those 2 rounds.

    Haden, Ward, Sheard, Taylor have all shown themselves to be very capable.  Little had a “drops” problem but was still the best WR on our team despite sitting out a year of football, being a rookie, and having no offseason.   Yes, they need to show it consistently over time, but what we have seen thus far has been excellent in the first 2 rounds.

  • The_Real_Shamrock

    Agreed too.

  • mgbode

    trying to think of the first 2 round picks that proved good picks before Heckert.

    I came up with Kevin Johnson, Jeff Faine, Joe Thomas, and Alex Mack.  And then, came up blank.

    DQ, Winslow Jr. and S.Jones all ended up in the “too often injured to be considered good picks” camp there.  DQ still has time to elevate into the good pick one though.

  • Harv 21

    Remember being thrilled with his meager 7 carries in his one pre-season game his rookie year just before his knee gave out. If (if) that speed/explosiveness has returned not sure how you cut him this year. Think you give him one more season to see if he’s just one of those muscular but fragile bodies not cut out for the NFL, like Courtney Brown.

    Not sure the ticking shelf life fear is applicable here. The relentless pounding is the big factor slowing most RBs by the time they’re 29-30. But Montario still has the shrink wrap on him.

  • Humboldt

    Wasn’t Northcutt a #2? He was at least solid aside from his epic drop in the playoff game. Yes, sadly it is known as “the playoff game”

  • mgbode

    Yeah, I thought about putting him on there purely for his PR and ST skills (best onside kick recovery I have ever seen when Phil popped the ball up on the weakside and he went and got it)

  • Humboldt

    Good memory. I believe it was against the Titans in 2002, right? Between the Browns series of come from behind wins and Ohio State’s national title, that was the best fall football season I have ever experienced.

    btw, Northcutt merits consideration b/c, aside from decent production, he was at least a good citizen here as well. Didn’t cause trouble, was a presence on local media, did some community outreach in Cleveland, etc.

  • mgbode

    definitely the Titans, ’02 sounds about right.

    the rest of the merits making Northcutt under consideration just show how bad the drafting was in the first 2 rounds that he’d get consideration for it 🙂

  • 5KMD

    I’d actually put Courtney Brown in the injured group. From what I remember he was legit when he was actually on the field.

    Feel free to correct me though.

  • TobaccoRoad

    Heckert tried to get a 1st round talent with injury history in the 2nd round and got burned.  End of story. 

  • mgbode

    putting him in that group is fine by me.

  • NoVA Buckeye

    i thought hardesty was a 3rd round pick?

  • Definitely not a third-round pick.

  • Co811809

    am i the only one who likes buster skrine ?

  • Hopwin

    Whia now, judging Heckert’s draft based on starting would mean Mangini was a mastermind too since all his old men veterans started. The true measure is who in this roster would start for a playoff team. Up and down both sides you’d be hard pressed to find more than 5.

  • porckchopexpress

    I would like to offer the complaint that the line “Selected only six spots behind the spot of one LeSean McCoy”  is terribly misleading and even the footnote doesn’t clear it up.  You may want to point out that they were selected in different years.  Otherwise I could make an incredible point like “Michael Jordan selected Kwame Brown 2 picks before Michael Jordan was selected”.  Remember Back to the Future rules always apply, you mess with the timeline you mess with everything before and after that point.

  • porckchopexpress

    I would argue that the truest measure is how your draft picks do playing against other teams.  Your measure is hard to prove because of the immense ammount of speculation

  • porckchopexpress

    Its hard for me to kill the Hardesty pick because they also took TJ Ward with an injury history and I feel like he was a good pick, so sometimes it works and somtimes it doesn’t   To me, the biggest Heckert failure was the Marecic/Cameron picks.  You had tightends and a fullback, you needed o-line d-line and receivers, yet you take positions you already have filled. Which forces you to pass on recievers in the second and third round this year to take o and d linemen. 

  • Fair point

  • mgbode

    I like him, but I see him as a limited guy to nickelback due to his size.  He’s feisty and I’d love for him to prove me wrong, but I just don’t think he can guard the big WRs in the redzone.

  • Harv 21

    while it’s too early to fairly judge the quality of either Cameron or Marecic (granted both look like projects so far), the Browns did need a fullback that draft. St. Vickers was a FA, he made it perfectly clear he wanted a generous multiyear contract from the Browns and they needed a FB who could catch some passes when necessary, a skill Vickers could not do his last few years here.

  • steve-o

    One reason L. McCoy was available late in the second round was because Mangini had three second round picks with which to pass him over. Hardesty was a gamble that has not paid off, but the real debacling happened long before Heckert arrived. We have only four starters on this team who were drafted in the 11 years preceding; Thomas, DQ, Rubin and Mack. That’s out of nearly 100 picks. That has to be the worst drafting record in the NFL, if not the entire history of sports in those first 11 years. Heckert has given us solid drafts so far and we will be a competitive team in a year or two if that continues.

  • It is funny to think Hardesty is Heckert’s miss. May I remind you of  another player named D’Qwell Jackson who suffered some injuries and missed most of two years before coming into camp ready to play much in the same way Hardesty is ready to play this season. Hardesty has worked his butt off to be ready to prove a point this season. This guy is ready to play some football and I think he will have a great season. Check out this Video and listen to what Montario has to say….

  • 357magnumbob

     Not going back far enough.  ’78 was a banner year. First round gems: ’71 – Clarence Scott, Pro Bowler (PB). ’72 – Thom Darden (PB) ’76 – Mike Pruitt (PB) ’78 – Clay Matthews (PB) and Ozzie Newsome (HOF) ’80 Charles White (PB) ’81 Hanford Dixon (PB), ’82 Chip Banks (PB), ’89 Eric Metcalf (PB), ’91 Eric Turner (PB), ’03 Jeff Faine (PB) you got…