Cincinnati Bengals Zero-Snap Spotlight: Marcus Hardison

Jun 14, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Marcus Hardison (91) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports
Jun 14, 2016; Cincinnati, OH, USA; Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle Marcus Hardison (91) during minicamp at Paul Brown Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports /

Continuing to look at the Cincinnati Bengals roster with the Zero-Snap Spotlight series, looking at defensive lineman Marcus Hardison.

The Zero-Snap Spotlight series is underway, taking a look at the lesser-known quantities of the Cincinnati Bengals roster. They aren’t the stars or big names playing in stripes. However, they are players that could have an impact on the 2017 season.

While these players are spread thick throughout the roster, they have one central theme among them. Though they’ve spent time with the Bengals, they have yet to take a snap in the NFL, making them blank slates and, in some cases, unknown commodities. I began things with Andrew Billings. To continue this series, I’m delving into another defensive lineman: Marcus Hardison.

Hardison was an intriguing prospect coming out of college. He was a former defensive end who moved to the interior, allowing him to show off speed not often seen from inside players. The skills gained on the outside helped his pass-rushing ability inside, with Hardison racking up 15 tackles for loss and 10 sacks in his senior season at Arizona State.

The Bengals selecting him in the fourth round made a ton of sense. Their defensive line was coming off a terrible year and severely lacked both youth and depth. Hardison could be that youthful, potential-laden option who could grab a key role and help the group rise back to prominence.

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That sounds like a perfect fit for Cincinnati this offseason, right? Well, here’s the problem: Hardison was selected in the 2015 draft, not the 2017 version. Those weaknesses on the Cincinnati defensive line I mentioned were applicable in both drafts, but things are a bit different this time around.

While depth issues were undoubtedly a problem last season, there are now tons of options who’ve been added beyond Hardison. Billings should have a great chance to take up the starting interior role beside Geno Atkins. Deshawn Williams already held a rotational role last year and could continue to do so moving forward. Ryan Glasgow was picked up this past draft to help as well. Even if he’s fully healthy, that’s a bunch of young competition for interior snaps Hardison has to work against.

Speaking of his health: it has been his biggest problem so far in his career. His rookie season, injuries didn’t put him on injured reserve, but they helped prevent him from ever reaching the field. Last year he did end up on IR, suffering a shoulder injury before the regular season began.

None of those injuries seem to come with long-term problems, but they have led to the unfortunate side-effect of Hardison not having a single regular season snap to his name as he enters his third season. That would be a tough enough mountain to climb on its own, but there are more factors to consider as well.

Consider that Hardison, while showcasing useful talents in his final year of college, was still not long into his transfer to the interior of the defensive line. Now, he’s had zero actual snaps in the league to hone and sharpen his strengths and weaknesses on the field. He’s essentially a 25-year old developmental prospect with injury problems. Those guys don’t often last long on rosters.

Plus, remember all those other prospects added since he was drafted? Each has the advantage of age and experience at their position on their side, and none have lost as much development time with the team to injuries.

Even with all that against him though, he shouldn’t be entirely written off. As a franchise, Cincinnati tends to stick with their players longer than most teams. Often, they give them a sizeable number of chances to find a contributing role too. Those factors bode well for Hardison having at least an outside shot at a roster spot.

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Also in his favor: It isn’t like the depth issues on the defensive line have been truly answered.

Peko’s nearly 600 snaps need to be replaced. Pat Sims fell off the metaphorical cliff and was mostly awful in his 400+ snaps and should probably be moved on from too. Brandon Thompson missed 2016 and was never better than average in limited snaps across the four prior seasons.

Past them, there’s Williams (57 snaps in 2016), two rookies (Glasgow, Josh Tupou), and three guys who’ve never never taken a regular season snap (Billings, Hardison, David Dean). With around 1,000 non-Atkins snaps to potentially parse out (less if Sims stays on), none of these players have any guarantee of being successful in major roles, and it would be smart of the Bengals to give them all an opportunity in the leadup to the season to make a mark.

If I had to predict things right now, Billings and Glasgow will get roles of some level. That would leave somewhere between one and three roster spots for the other interior players here (depending on Sims and how other position battles shake out).

Williams probably would have a leg up for one of those final spots, but if Hardison can show off the talent which got him drafted — as well as the knowledge of the defensive system he should have accumulated by being with the team for two seasons — he could put himself ahead of Tupou and Dean to fight for a final depth spot.

Next: NFL 2017: The 50 most untradeable players

Clearly he’s a long shot, but if he can stay healthy, it wouldn’t be shocking for a team well-known for holding onto guys longer than many would to do so again with Hardison.