For the past four years, running back Mike Hart has arguably been the heart and soul of the University of Michigan's football team, leading the Wolverines in carries each of those seasons. He was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Year in 2004 after gaining nearly 1,700 yards of total offense, including a school freshman record 1,455 on the ground. He would go on to finish as the all-time leader in rushing yardage at Michigan and as one of only four players in Big Ten history to rush for more than 5,000 yards during their career, joining Ron Dayne (Wisconsin), Archie Griffin (Ohio State) and Anthony Thompson (Indiana).
In terms of consistency, Hart ran for better than 1,350 yards in all but his sophomore campaign. He enjoyed his best overall season in 2006 when he gained 1,562 rushing yards and scored 14 touchdowns, finishing fifth in the Heisman Trophy voting. During his senior year, he gained more than 100 yards in all but one of the 10 games he played in, rushing for just 44 yards on 18 carries against Ohio State. He finished his career on a high note, gaining 129 yards and scoring a pair of touchdowns in Michigan's upset victory over Florida in the Capital One Bowl.
As competitive as they come, Hart works hard on and off the field commanding the respect as well as admiration of his teammates. That competitive fire translates into his running style as he is a tough, physical runner that won't shy away from contact and isn't easy to bring down. Despite that, he does a nice job of controlling his body and is shifty enough not to take a lot of direct hits.
Patience and vision are two of his finer traits. Many believe those will translate well into the zone-blocking scheme, which emphasizes a running back's ability to wait for a lane to open up and then hit it. He also does a wonderful job of protecting the football with his only two fumbles of the 2007 season coming against the Gators.
He was rarely utilized in the passing game at Michigan in an effort not to unnecessarily tax his body. However, Hart boasts soft hands and could be an effective weapon out of the backfield at the NFL level.
Hart's measurables are anything but ideal. He is undersized (5-foot-8 7/8, 206 pounds) and slow footed (4.69 at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine in the 40-yard dash). Those limitations appear to put a pretty firm ceiling on what he can do in the NFL as he lacks the size and speed of an every-down back. He also lacks the burst to separate from defenders at the second level, which increases the likelihood that he'll be run down by quicker NFL defensive backs and linebackers.
Durability is another primary concern surrounding Hart. He has dealt with a few lower-body injuries during his collegiate career, including an ankle sprain that kept him out of three full games and parts of two others as a senior. Considering there are already concerns about Hart's diminutive size, his inability to stay healthy in college takes on added significance.
Blitz pickup could also be an issue. He appears to lack the size and strength to hold up against larger defenders. Such a deficiency could make it difficult to leave him alone in the backfield on third downs in obvious passing situations despite his pass-catching ability. This could hamper his value since he projects primarily as a change-of-pace back in the NFL.
Expected Draft Placement
While you can't argue with the numbers he put up for the Wolverines, Hart's size and speed make him less than an ideal prospect for the NFL. He certainly does enough things well that his name should be called fairly early on the second day of the draft, somewhere between the mid-to-late third round and early-to-mid fourth round. Any number of teams could be interested at that stage of the draft, though a couple to keep an eye on are the Carolina Panthers and Indianapolis Colts, both of whom might be waiting until the middle rounds to possibly add some depth to their offensive backfield.
About Herija C. Green
A graduate of the prestigious Top Gun school, Green's ego writes checks his body can't cash. When he's not overdrawing his ego's bank account, Green enjoys games of beach volleyball, riding his Kawasaki Ninja motorcycle, and buzzing the tower (whether the pattern is full or not). He resides in the Danger Zone and yes, Ice... Man, he is dangerous. He also writes.
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