The Senior Bowl week had its share of smaller receivers. The one with the highest college production is East Carolina’s Justin Hardy. I got to review eight of his college games over the past two seasons against Florida, NC Central, Cincinnati, Connecticut, South Carolina, Southern Mississippi, Virginia Tech, and North Carolina. This should have given me a more comprehensive view of his talents and skill set that he brings to the next level.
WR Justin Hardy, East Carolina 6’ 188 lbs.
Cons: While he isn’t exactly short, Hardy is not a muscular, physical specimen and can get knocked around while running pass routes. The wide out did a lot of standing around waiting for the ball to arrive on short screens; this will get him injured in a hurry wearing an NFL uniform. Hardy is more quick than fast, so I do not expect him to run an outstanding 40 yard dash. He also has a bad habit of attempting a lot of one-handed catches; while it is great to see him get a hand of the ball, the receiver needs to secure it with two hands, instead of trying to make a highlight reel.
Pros (receiving): He spent most of the time split out wide, but also lined up in the slot. This wide out gets off the line with explosion combined with quick feet. Hardy catches the ball at its highest point with soft hands and usually boxes out his coverage. The receiver is great on bubble screens that take advantage of his start/stop agility as he usually makes the first defender miss. Unlike most wide outs his size, Hardy runs excellent crossing routes, makes bucket catches with double coverage, and takes multiple hard hits each game. He runs a full route tree, always giving high effort and looking smooth while doing it.
The receiver works back to help out his quarterback and works across the field to give him an open target. He prefers to make his catches in stride, tracking the ball in the air, and selling a double move to create separation. Hardy leaps above most defenders fighting for the ball while contorting his body to make difficult receptions with amazing concentration even along the sidelines. His catch radius is one of the best of his class and he never gives up on a pass, especially in the end zone. The wide out will sacrifice his body to make a catch. Hardy keeps his legs churning showing burst and balance while fighting for extra yardage, not giving an inch.
Pros (special teams and running game): As a punt returner, Hardy sees the entire field well, taking good angles and runs behind his blockers. He is a great open field runner and gets to a second gear in a hurry. The wide out got to throw the ball a few times on reverses and showed off a strong, but not so accurate arm. While the receiver isn’t an accomplished run blocker, he shows high effort on those running plays and stays in front of his man until the whistle blows.
Overall thoughts: Hardy could become an exciting player in the right offense as a strong WR2. He reminds me a bit of a more dynamic Jeremy Maclin. I do have my concerns that unless he receives high amounts of targets, he could end up playing more of a Eddie Royal role aka a glorified slot receiver who doesn’t have the speed to make plays downfield.
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