He’d Look Good In Silver And Black: Arizona State’s Marcus Hardison


Nov 28, 2014; Tucson, AZ, USA; Arizona State Sun Devils defensive lineman Marcus Hardison (1) sacks Arizona Wildcats quarterback Anu Solomon (12) during the 88th annual territorial cup at Arizona Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Arizona State defensive tackle Marcus Hardison would fill an interior pass-rush need in an already pass-heavy division.

Peyton Manning. Philip Rivers. Alex Smith.

These are the three quarterbacks who stand in the way of a division title and subsequent playoff berth for the Oakland Raiders. All three have their unique characteristics, however, all three have a key similarity: they rarely go under center to take a snap.

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I suppose you could say that for most quarterbacks in the NFL today, but the AFC West has some distinct differences. For one, Manning and Rivers are two of the most prolific gunslingers in recent NFL history, while Alex Smith operates one of the most dynamic spread offenses in the league.

The end result is a need to have a defensive line that specializes in disrupting the opponent’s backfield.

Right now, the interior portion of Oakland’s defensive line is made up of guys who don’t really jump off the screen on film as elite disrupters. You have a guy in Dan Williams who has only played in 16 games once in his five-year career, logging a total of two sacks. Next to Williams is Stacy McGee, a second-year man who has missed five games during his tenure in Oakland and logged a half of a sack.

The Oakland Raiders must do better — and the experts agree.

Many mock drafts across the web have the Raiders drafting Southern Cal defensive tackle Leonard Williams with the fourth overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. That makes some sense, as defensive tackle — as we’ve addressed — is a definite need and Williams is the highest rated defensive tackle on the board. That said, it’s not Oakland’s only need. The Raiders also need an elite playmaker at wide receiver — something they haven’t had since the short tenure of Randy Moss. For that reason, the Raiders need to spend their first pick on one of two elite wide receivers in this year’s draft who stand out amongst the rest: Alabama’s Amari Cooper or West Virginia’s Kevin White.

The defensive tackle position is much deeper with greater value to be found in the later rounds. Sitting there for the Raiders in the second or third round will be Arizona State defensive tackle Marcus Hardison.

Hardison — a 6-4, 300 pound former quarterback — is built to play in the AFC West. He excelled as an interior pass-rusher in the Pac 12 — a conference filled with both air-it-out and traditional spread offenses. In his first full year as a starter, he led all defensive tackles nationally in sacks with ten. All ten came against Power-5 opponents. This wasn’t a case of a guy padding his stats with a couple of three and four sack games against mid-majors. He also recorded two interceptions.

Ironically, his best game did not include a sack on the stat sheet. Hardison spearheaded Arizona State’s bowl game win over Duke by recording 13 total tackles — almost unheard of for a defensive tackle at any level. That number demonstrates Hardison’s ability to not only disrupt and rush the passer, but to shed blockers and make plays on the ball as well. It’s those situations where his 4.8-4.9 40 speed came into play.

The biggest knocks on Hardison are the small sample size as a starter (one season) and the notion that he is too much of a finesse player to get the job done at the next level. Unfortunately, all Hardison can do is prove himself on the field with the chances he gets — something he did throughout 2014 and continued to do during Senior Bowl week.

The bottom line is that Hardison is the best interior pass rusher in a draft loaded with solid defensive tackles. The wide receiver position is nowhere as deep when it comes to elite talent. The wise thing for the Raiders to do, as previously mentioned, is to snatch up one of the draft’s top receivers with first pick and steal Hardison as late as the third or fourth round.

The teams who perennially excel in the NFL have mastered the art of finding value in the draft. If the Oakland Raiders are able to fill one of their biggest needs by drafting a talent like Hardison in the third or fourth round instead of the first, Raider Nation should consider the 2015 NFL Draft a success.

Next: Should the Raiders sign Michael Crabtree?

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