Imagine Montario Hardesty — the NFL prospect — a year ago.
Would he have been selected in the NFL draft? Sure, he had performed admirably at Tennessee, overcoming one leg injury after another. But was he really an NFL tailback?
Fast forward to 2010. There are no such questions.
Hardesty is a bona fide pro prospect, especially after his showing at the NFL combine in Indianapolis.
Among running backs, the 6-foot, 225-pound Hardesty was first in the vertical and broad jump, third in the cone run, 20-yard and 60-yard shuttle and sixth in the 40-yard dash (4.49 seconds).
“All my personal goals that I had set for myself, I pretty much surpassed them,” said Hardesty, who lamented that his 40 time wasn’t a bit faster but was pleased with his above average broad jump.
“I had some good drills, showing them that I was explosive,” he said.
Even though the 40 time rated lower than his other performances, it may be the one that proved most to NFL scouts, who were concerned about his speed. Pass-catching drills also were a plus.
“I wanted to show that I could run with the smaller backs and that I also have great hands out of the backfield,” Hardesty said.
Despite a deep draft for running backs, NFL draft analyst Michael Lombardi of The National Football Post said Hardesty stood out.
“Ultimately, he’s alerted people that he’s a really talented player,” Lombardi said. “He can put his foot in the ground. He can make moves. He can burst off of cuts.”
Lombardi said Hardesty has proven he’s a “three-play back,” that he can pass protect, catch the ball and run.
“I just really feel like I’m one of the top backs out there,” Hardesty said. “I feel like I’m one of the most complete backs. That’s not to be conceited about my game, but I feel like that I went out there and showed that I’m a complete back. I definitely want to be one of the top backs chosen. We’ll see how that goes in April.”
April 23, the second day of the NFL draft, is likely when the next round of nerves will come. Hardesty experienced plenty of anxious moments in the combine.
“You’re definitely nervous, man. You’re nervous the whole time,” he said. “It’s always been my dream to play in the NFL, so it was like the biggest job interview of your life. You pretty much only have one chance to nail everything so you’ve got to be on top of your game.”
Hardesty isn’t concerned about projections. He’ll leave that to the experts, most of who believe he’ll be a mid-rounder, possibly as high as the second round.
“There’s been a lot of buzz about how I performed in the combine,” Hardesty said. “People tell me my stock is going up, but I can’t really (listen) to that. I’ve just got to perform and take advantage of everything. Let my agent handle everything like that.”
Hardesty said he’ll participate in some individual drills for UT’s Pro Day on March 17.
He should feel comfortable on campus. His rushed for 1,345 yards and caught 25 passes for 305 yards during his senior season.
“It definitely helped a lot to be able to be the guy — making plays the way I did … It was just good for me that I was able to be a leader for this team and those guys trusted me with the ball in my hands,” Hardesty said.
Leg injuries at UT have long been a downer for any conversation concerning Hardesty’s future. He said that wasn’t the case at the combine.
“There’s a whole medical (evaluation),” he said. “The doctors touch and feel on you to make sure everything’s good. I feel like I passed all the medical stuff. All the injuries were a long time ago.
“That’s why I did everything at the combine, to show those guys that the injuries are behind me.”
Lombardi compared Hardesty to Curtis Martin, another oft-injured college player, who eventually had a distinguished NFL career.
“He proved people wrong,” Lombardi said, “because he was talented.”
Hardesty is determined to do the same.