Vikings to visit with versatile lineman

The Vikings will reportedly visit with Arizona State defensive lineman Marcus Hardison. Get the in-depth scouting report inside, one that goes beyond the stats to examine his strengths and weaknesses from the NFL’s lead scout.

Mike Zimmer loves position and assignment flexibility in his defensive players, and that’s likely one of the reasons the Minnesota Vikings have scheduled a predraft visit with Arizona State defensive lineman Marcus Hardison.

The 6-foot-3, 307-pounder can play both defensive end and defensive tackle, but the Vikings weren’t able to get an in-person look at his athletic abilities at the NFL Scouting Combine because a left knee injury prevented him from working out in Indianapolis last month. While draft prospects aren’t allowed to work out during visits to NFL team facilities, a visit with Hardison, as reported by WalterFootball.com, would at least allow the Vikings the opportunity to know him better.

Considered a “late bloomer,” Hardison spent two years at junior college before enrolling at Arizona State. He was relegated to backup status as a junior before coming on strong in a versatile role as a senior. Dave-Te’ Thomas, the NFL’s lead scout, compared Hardison’s versatility to that of former Viking Kevin Williams.

“He has the size you look for in a defensive tackle, as he carries his weight well working down the line to pursue the play,” Thomas wrote in his evaluation of Hardison.

“As most scouts see from Hardison’s game film as a defensive end in 2014, he can be a disruptive presence, thanks to possessing very good initial step quickness. With 15 stops behind the line of scrimmage, he has also proven he can be a stout run defender who is able to take on blockers and hold his ground. He demonstrates the ability to fire off the snap at a low pad level, uncoil on contact and generate power with his leg drive.”

Interestingly, Hardison started his high school career as a quarterback, averaging 4.13 yards per rush, but a growth spurt caused him to move to the defensive line.

After finishing two years at Dodge City Community College, Hardison started his final 13 games at Arizona State, registering 58 tackles, including 16 for losses, 11 sacks and three forced fumbles in 28 games played. Ten of his sacks came as a senior.

He is listed as a fourth-round value by Scout.com.

Here is Thomas’ scouting report on Hardison:

Hardison is one of those players that appeals to teams using both types of base defenses. He has the size and gap skills to rush the passer from between the tackles, along with good range to chase down plays along the sidelines. He does a good job of shooting his hands and can quickly extend and maintain separation, and while he’s engaged maintain a good football position to hold his ground.

What Hardison displays is the ability to take on a block, locate the ball and disengage. He moves well for his size, and thanks to his playing days as a quarterback and on the basketball court he has the ability to quickly redirect when the ball carrier locates the cutback lanes. He’s a big man who can finish when he gets his hands on a runner and even though he did not play defense until his senior year in high school, he’s become an efficient wrap-up tackler.

Hardison appears to be very comfortable making plays on the move. He has a nice flow to the ball, staying at a good pad level, which also helps make him effective on slants, twists and stunts. He shows a quick first step and will consistently penetrate and disrupt, doing a good job of using his hands to keep blockers off his body. He is not an explosive playmaker, but is more than agile enough to makes plays in pursuit.

With his overall strength, it is hard for teams to get him to yield ground when they try to run right at him and he shows that he can be a good fit in a gap-control scheme. He plays with a wide base, using his long arms and big hands when attempting to stack and shed. He’s a powerful hitter with good wrap-up skills in space, especially for such a big down lineman.

While Hardison can defend the run well, he is also a good pass rusher. If he gets a nice initial burst, he can quickly get up field and attack, as he is very active with his hands, using them like weapons to work past blockers. He will never be confused for being a great power rusher, but he does a good job of using violent hands to stay off blocks. He is still developing a solid array of pass rush moves, but he appears to be instinctive and closes quickly.

Hardison is also effective as an inside rusher, as he can win some battles with power moves. He has the ability to drive offensive linemen back into the quarterback and has some strong upper-body moves to get the blocker off-balance. He just lacks a consistent closing burst to consistently take advantage.

Playing Hardison inside on passing situations is better, as he is not really a threat to turn the corner with pure speed off the edge in the NFL. He just seems to be a better rusher working in-line than on the edge. For a player his size, he might not look the part, but when he slides in to play tackle, he is a very effective run-plugger.

Due to his experience playing quarterback in the past, Hardison displays above-average awareness to play-action and misdirection. He is the type that can find the ball quickly and does a consistently good job flowing to it. Some teams prefer him as a five-technique prospect, but he has more than adequate top-end speed for his size to be used in a variety of roles. While he may not have that explosive first step to be a threat when bending the corner as a perimeter pass rusher, he does show quick-twitch moves and does well in transition when changing directions.

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