It’s hard to be a completely unknown player after two years in the NFL.
That’s the case with defensive tackle Marcus Hardison, who has yet to appear in a game for the Cincinnati Bengals, despite entering the league in 2015.
Is 2017 the year Hardison manages to make an impact in more than just the preseason? And can he stay healthy after back-to-back preseason injuries?
Weight: 310 pounds
College: Arizona State
Hometown: Natchitoches, La.
Experience: Third-year player
Hardison is in the third year of his four-year rookie contract. He’s set to make $701,423 in 2017 if he makes the final roster. If waived this year, Hardison has a dead cap hit of $172,846, according to Spotrac. He is set to be an unrestricted free agent in 2018.
In the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft with pick No. 135, the Bengals added one of the draft's most intriguing prospects in Hardison, a one-year wonder who thrived along Arizona State's defensive line.
The former Sun Devil had just one productive season of D-1 football under his belt after a stint in junior college began his college career. It was one to remember though as Hardison racked up a team-leading 10 sacks and 15 tackles for loss to go with 53 tackles, 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. That's amazing quickness for a lineman, and it explained why Hardison has the ability to play both defensive end and tackle, and the expectation was he would do just that with the Bengals.
A solid showing in his rookie training camp and the preseason gave off glimpses of Hardison developing into a quality NFL lineman. But between the Bengals’ stacked d-line, as well as a knee injury incurred in the preseason, Hardison wound up being inactive for every game as a rookie.
Things didn’t get any better in 2016. After a strong training camp and partial preseason, Hardison spent the regular season on Injured Reserve after suffering a shoulder injury at the end of the Jaguars game in the third week of the preseason.
In the 2015 preseason he amassed 9 tackles, 1 sack and 1 pass defended before getting injured. In the 2016 preseason, he accumulated 3 tackles in one less game.
Now, Hardison is hoping year three is the one in which he finally makes it past the preseason and has an impact in the regular season. The Bengals could certainly use his help as an interior pass-rusher in addition to getting snaps at defensive end. His role will be similar to what Wallace Gilberry does if Hardison can make the final roster. The Bengals love keeping versatile linemen on both sides of the ball in order to make forming a 53-man roster easier. Hardison offers them a good rotational piece at both tackle and end.
I expect Hardison to be on the 53-man roster this season, but how well he does in training camp and the preseason will determine how big of a role he has, or if he’s even a gameday active. He has yet to receive a chance to play and the Bengals will surely want to see what he can do to ensure they didn’t waste a draft pick on the talented lineman.
Hardison will be competing with the likes of David Dean, Ryan Glasgow, Pat Sims, Brandon Thompson, Josh Tupou and DeShawn Williams for a roster spot in 2017.
Odds: 65 percent