The Bengals took defensive tackle Marcus Hardison in the fourth round of this year's NFL draft, but it almost was a different name at the same position selected by the Bengals.
Though the Arizona State star was someone worthy of this pick, there was someone else on the board who would have been a huge steal at pick No. 135. That was Clemson's Grady Jarrett, who Cincinnati passed on to take Hardison, though it wasn't an easy choice.
As Geoff Hobson writes, Jarrett was the more proven commodity after a solid career at Clemson, but the emergence of Hardison this past year made him too tantalizing to pass on:
I talked to one guy who thought the toughest call for the Bengals all day was at 135 between Hardison and Clemson nose tackle Grady Jarrett. They loved Jarrett as a guy and his consistency and fire, but they were also enamored of the junior college-bred Hardison’s huge upside with his 4.8 big man 40 and his emergence in his last eight games at Arizona State with seven sacks. Tough call, but at that point in the draft, it’s usually more about upside.
At 6'3", 305 pounds, Hardison has the size to be a three-technique or nose tackle in a 4-3, but he's actually is a former defensive end. Watching his tape, you see why with his speed and quickness while carrying his large frame.
Hardison led Arizona State with 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss to go with 53 tackles this past season. He also forced six turnovers (three forced fumbles, two interceptions and a fumble recovery).
At his Pro Day, Hardison clocked in 4.8s in the 40-yard dash, and ran the short shuttle in 4.65 seconds and 3 cone drill in 7.29 seconds. All of those are very fast for any defensive lineman, let alone someone who will play on the interior in the NFL.
As for Jarrett, he fell to pick No. 137 before Atlanta moved up get him. Jarrett is more of a run-stuffer who does a good job maintaining his gap. He's not a flashy player, and he won't get more than a few sacks per year, (5.5 in his four-year college career), but is more reliable than a one-year wonder like Hardison.
Had Hardison performed with the kind of production he had last year over a longer span, he probably would have been rated higher than Jarrett. After a JUCO stint at Dodge City Community College, where he compiled 96 tackles and seven sacks in two seasons, Hardison was irrelevant in his first year at Arizona State in 2013 before breaking out his final year of college.
This is a similar decision to what the Bengals decided in Round 1, when they took a promising but flawed talent in Cedric Ogbuehi. The flaw was an ACL tear, which occured just five months earlier, which caused him to fall from a top 10-15 pick to 21st-overall to Cincinnati.
Ultimately the careers of Jarrett and Hardison will be remembered by Bengals fans, especially if Jarrett turns out to be the better player.