Phil Emery has a strategy as the general manager of the Chicago Bears that comes from his background as a strength and conditioning coach rather than in-game football background. Emery is unapologetic about drafting the best athlete available rather than drafting the best player available and in the last two drafts that has been evident. Shea McClellin, Brandon Hardin, Evan Rodriguez, Kyle Long, Jon Bostic, and Cornelius Washington represent athletes that Emery has targeted in the draft. This strategy is a questionable one given the history of players that grade out as high level athletes, that turn into busts in the NFL.
Brandon Hardin now enters his second year in the NFL draft as the Bears third round draft selection in the 2012 NFL Draft. Hardin is in every sense of the word a pure athlete prospect who Emery reached on in the draft in the third round. Hardin didn't play safety in college and wasn't really projected to be a top safety prospect in the NFL. He has a remarkable size and athletic skill set for a football player, but looked lost at the safety position in 2012.
His season didn't last long however as an injury put him on the injured reserve list that effectively ended his season. Hardin suffered what was at the very moment of the injury thought to be serious, but by the time he could have come off the eight game limited IR he was ready to play. The Bears wound up needing a player like a second day draft pick safety, but Hardin wasn't available, perhaps not even ready.
Now the question becomes will Brandon Hardin ever be ready and will he become the first casualty of Phil Emery's questionable draft strategy?
Hardin now sits at the bottom of the depth chart at the safety position currently running as the sixth safety on the roster behind incumbents Major Wright and Chris Conte and veteran backups Tom Zbikowski and Craig Steltz. Hardin didn't show much in the way of ability once the pads came on in training camp last year and has looked absolutely lost according to reports coming out of mini-camp and OTAs this year.
To put it simply Brandon Hardin is quickly becoming an afterthought and his draft status belies that he needs to be an potential starter if not a key backup on the Bears depth chart. Teams are built through the draft with second day picks at occasionally you get lucky with a third day pick. The onus is now on Hardin to take a major step forward in his development as a safety. After missing the last two years of football due to injuries, now more than ever he needs to show he deserves to be in the NFL.
Can a player who has never played safety develop into a potential starter or a key role player on defense? Can the Bears afford to wait on a second year player who may never reach the potential required to make the 53-man roster? If Hardin is struggling to work his way up the depth chart and risks being a weak link on defense if there is an injury can the Bears justify keeping him on the roster?
At this point it seems that unless something changes Hardin is at best destined for the practice squad, not a position you would consider placing a third round draft pick in his second year. If Hardin fails to make the roster, you hope he isn't the first in a line of athletes who fail to reach the potential Phil Emery saw of them at the NFL Combine.