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Who the hell will they draft 2008: Howard DE Rudolph Hardie

Rudolph Hardie = Super Sleeper?
We've dedicated the last few profile to skill position players, like Matt Forte and John Carlson, and now we will shift back to the offensive and defensive lines for the next few write-ups. Also, we will place extra emphasis on "sleeper" players that the Colts could draft in rounds 6 and 7; many of these players are pass rushing specialists like Howard's Rudolph Hardie.

While it is possible that the Colts will draft Georgia DE Marcus Howard or Purdue's Cliff Avril in rounds 2 or 3, that does not mean pass rushers in later rounds will get ignored. A player like Hardie is intriguing here, especially when you consider Indy's success with drafting late round defensive talent. First and foremost, Hardie played college ball at Howard, an African American college that does not play premiere talent. But I'm not one to put a ton of stock in the big school mentality. As I've said before, Laurence Phillips played a lot of college ball against top tier talent, and still sucked at the pro level. Vince Young and Reggie Bush played top tier college talent, and both are fading fast in the pros. Hardie's college, Howard University, runs a Tampa 2-style defense and it produced Colts starting safety (and Pro Bowler) Antoine Bethea.

The system Howard runs is a system very similar to Indy's. So, naturally, Indy's scouts take an interest when a player from Howard starts to make waves. Hardie was not present at the NFL Combine, but his production at Howard (in particular his knack for destroying QBs) and his university work out on March 11 impressed scouts. With Hardie, it is not his timed speed that wows scouts but rather his quick first step and non-stop motor. Hardie is also very stout against the run, as NFL Draft Scout notes, able to take on guards and tackles.

What also catches your attention is Hardie's amazingly consistent production. Many college players will have two or three years of "meh" production and then, in their senior year, they go nuts. Some of it is legit. Barry Sanders played behind Thurman Thomas at OK State, and didn't get a chance to showcase his super human talents until after Thomas left. Other times, the player just had a lucky season, and they are cashing in with the draft. With Hardie, his production has been so consistently dominant it is hard to ignore him. In his junior and senior seasons, Hardie averaged 23 tackles behind the line and 11 sacks. His 25 sacks in 2007 led the MEAC. He also had 10 QB hurries and 2 forced fumbles.

In addition to his production, Hardie also passes the "not a jerk-off" test:

Great bulk with a solid frame and long arms...Excellent production....A pretty good pass rusher....Is relentless with a non-stop motor...Has a great first step...Does a fantastic job in pursuit...Has a burst to close..Hard worker with terrific intangibles.
Regarding weaknesses, they are the same weakness we always hear about Cover 2-style DEs. Hardie is too short (6'1) and played at a Division 1-A school. I never understand how being 6'1 is a weakness at DE. Dwight Freeney is 6'2 and Robert Mathis 6'1. Last I checked, they were pretty good. Antoine Bethea played at Howard, and I recall seeing him holding the Lombardy two years ago. Hardie's real weaknesses are many in his technique and his instincts. Technique can be taught, but instincts are something different.

Despite these weakness, there is a reason Hardie keeps popping up on people's sleeper draft pick lists: He has the tools to become a very good pass rusher, and team looking for DE depth could find a gem in Hardie. Look for a Cover-2 style team, such as the Colts, Vikes, or Bucs, to draft Hardie.