The Atlanta Falcons made wide receiver Justin Hardy their 4th round pick of the 2015 NFL draft. His production was phenomenal. He accumulated 387 receptions for 4541 yards and 35 touchdowns over 4 seasons. His 387 receptions is an all-time FBS record.
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Per Knox Bardeen via FoxSports, Falcons wide receiver coach Terry Robiskie made no effort to hide his praise for Hardy.
"“We thought he was a very, very good, energetic, competitive football player. We were excited about a lot of things we saw in him. A guy who caught a lot of balls, a guy who is capable of catching a lot of balls, a guy who competes and competes to win.”"
Hardy’s hunger and desire to be great has already been displayed through action. He was awarded the Burlsworth trophy which is given to the most outstanding player in the nation who was originally a walk-on.
From walk-on to all-time record holder, Hardy has certainly beaten all the odds as he chases his dream.
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He is viewed as the replacement for long-term wide receiver Harry Douglas, who was a part of the Atlanta Falcons for six seasons before he took the next step in his career and signed with the Tennessee Titans.
I haven’t ever rated Douglas highly but 2014 was his best year. He seemed to do a much better job tracking and extending his arms for passes outside his frame.
However, his catch radius has been very inconsistent throughout his career especially on high and low passes. He’s generally not strong through his routes and often can be beaten to the ball easily.
Furthermore, 12 of Matt Ryan’s 31 interceptions the last 2 seasons have come when he’s thrown to Douglas. This works out to 38.7% which is an incredibly high amount compared to the rest of the Falcons’ receivers corps.
Another way to look at this is INT %. Using Pro-Football-Reference’s target data;
- Julio Jones: 222 targets, 4 interceptions – 1.80%
- Roddy White: 220 targets, 4 interceptions – 1.82%
- Harry Douglas: 204 targets, 12 interceptions – 5.88%
An unusually high amount of Ryan’s interceptions came when he was targeting Douglas.
The greatest skill Justin Hardy has on Douglas is his catch radius. He has a great highlight reel of making acrobatic catches thanks to his excellent body control, coordination and hands.
Another key skill is his strength through routes. Despite having a similar physique to Douglas, he’s strong and won’t be pushed around on his routes so easily. This makes him a reliable go-to option on 3rd down and in the redzone. When a quarterback knows his receiver is going to be at a particular spot at the right time, the trust increases dramatically.
Douglas’ speed wasn’t a difference maker and that is the same case with Hardy who might be a touch slower. However, his lateral quickness is good and that means he’s more of a horizontal slot receiver rather than a vertical slot. I expect most of his damage to come through digs, outs, curls and crossers rather than fades and posts.
What Hardy has to do is learn all the tricks of the trade to get open. He’s not blessed with great athletic talent or size so has to learn to compensate for that. Easier said than done, but his hunger and sheer determination to be great gives him an unmeasurable head start.
Fortunately he also has Roddy White to help him out. White’s transformation from a vertical receiver to a complete franchise receiver and then into a possession receiver didn’t happen just through talent.
He worked at his trade and learned how to become crafty to generate separation. The right time to break, running slight route deviations, changing gears running routes, setting up routes to make plays later on in the game etc. all matter. Plays are rarely run exactly as they’re drawn up.
Hardy will have to learn the same. How quick he will is anyone’s guess but once he does, he will impact. He’s already proven himself against top college talent like future 1st-round pick and All-American cornerback Vernon Hargraves from Florida.
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