The Cleveland Browns are hard at work finalizing their 2011 NFL Draft plans and now they may have yet another player to think about when piecing together the depth chart for next season. Montario Hardesty is reportedly on track to make a comeback in 2011 after suffering a knee injury in 2010 that sidelined him for the entire season.
Hardesty was one of the most questionable runners coming out of the entire 2010 NFL Draft class but impressed former Cleveland head coach Eric Mangini enough for the franchise to make a pull for him on the second day.
Hardesty was a standout with the Tennessee Volunteers, rushing for 26 touchdowns in four seasons of work and rushing for over 1,000 yards his senior season.
So should Cleveland count on Hardesty to be a factor in 2011?
The answer to this pressing question is quite simple. Cleveland needs to find a solid rusher to complement the efforts of Peyton Hillis in the backfield and a player that can stay healthy throughout training camp and the regular season. Hardesty has some significant concerns coming off surgery on his ACL and should not be counted on to be a contributing factor next season.
Cleveland has good position in every late round to pick up a solid rusher in this year's draft. One of the most valued options may be Derrick Locke from the Kentucky Wildcats.
Locke was a consistent rusher at the college level and put up good numbers for two consecutive seasons before he declared for the draft this year.
As a four-year player with Kentucky, Locke rushed for over 2,600 yards and 22 touchdowns. However, the strongest part of Locke's game may have been in his ability to catch short passes out of the backfield. Locke caught 95 passes in his college career but only managed to find the end zone on three receptions.
Another option for Cleveland at the running back position may be Shane Vereen from the California Golden Bears.
Vereen was a very similar rusher to Locke but put up better numbers against some quality competition. Vereen rushed for a little under 3,000 yards in only three seasons with California and also caught 74 passes. Cleveland has also shown interest in Vereen this offseason as Browns officials traveled to California for a private workout with him in March.
Vereen and Locke are projected as fourth- and sixth-round prospects, respectively.