Cleveland Browns' Montario Hardesty: Panic Reach or Genius Pick?

Samuel IngroAnalyst IApril 27, 2010

After months of draft speculation, it was all but a certainty that Colt McCoy would be the Cleveland Browns' second-round choice.

Despite president Mike Holmgren's insistence that the first two picks would not be spent on a quarterback due to more pressing needs elsewhere, the fan base of Cleveland was simply not buying it. After all, with the last year of secrecy and deception by Eric Mangini, it would turn any rational thinking fan into an automatic skeptic.

Pick No. 38 came, with the entire city of Cleveland holding their breath, waiting for the announcement of their future franchise quarterback to be announced. The scene was painted perfectly; the greatest player in Browns' history, Jim Brown, walked out to make the announcement.

"With the 38th pick in the NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select...Oregon free safety TJ Ward. Good luck!"

Shock swept over the city. "What is Mike Holmgren doing?!" Exactly what he said he would do: addressing the needs of more troubled areas first, and assuming Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace could hold down the quarterback position for the 2010 season.

A few more picks came and went, each time breathing a sigh of relief to not hear Colt McCoy's name called, when finally a trade up happened. The Cleveland Browns had traded with the Philadelphia Eagles for the No. 59 pick—surely this pick would be the one for McCoy.

"With the 59th pick in the NFL draft, the Cleveland Browns select...Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty."

Complete and utter surprise. New regimes typically mean new quarterbacks and new running backs, and it's apparent that Mike Holmgren and Tom Heckert had seen enough of Montario Hardesty to see that he's a player they could literally run into the future behind.

The fan base was in an uproar with claims of a "reach" and a "panic pick" by a supposedly inexperienced front office, even though Heckert and Holmgren have been drafting prospects for the last decade. Looking into is however, was it really a reach? Did Tom Heckert fall in love with Hardesty and merely panic? Maybe they knew what they were doing.

According to Pro Football Talk, Montario Hardesty had private visits with the New York Jets and the New England Patriots a mere two weeks earlier, who had come away impressed with his abilities. Is it any coincidence that Tom Heckert made a call to his old team to make the trade, leap-frogging both the Jets and the Patriots by just two slots on the board?

The next running back off the board ended up being USC's Joe McKnight...by the New York Jets. Even though Montario Hardesty was originally a Round Three projection, given how far off the analysts were, and with the Jets and the Patriots on deck, it was a move that had to be made.

The amount of talent dropped off significantly after Hardesty, and with Cleveland's depth chart consisting of an unproven rookie in Clemson's James Davis, and four-game wonder Jerome Harrison, this "reach" of a pick may have just saved the season before it even kicked off.

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