When the Falcons released Harry Douglas, it was sad but made sense. Douglas was a guy you always had to like. A tough player who always seemed to enjoy the game. He also stepped up in a big way when Julio Jones dealt with injuries. Douglas was exactly what you want in a #3 WR. Unfortunately, his salary wasn’t. At least, his salary wasn’t when you’re a team picking in the top 10 of the draft. The Falcons had bigger holes, and they said goodbye to a pretty good slot receiver to fill them.
Of course, that created a slot receiver vacancy. The Falcons filled that vacancy in the 4th round, selecting East Carolina’s Justin Hardy 107th overall. Hardy was immensely productive at the college level, breaking the FBS record for career receptions with 387. That’s not bad for a guy who had to walk on at East Carolina. In college, he regularly operated out of the slot, and last year was one of the country’s most productive slot receivers, according to Pro Football Focus’s College Football Focus grading project.
He isn’t a workout wonder. In fact, he’s kind of an odd player from a purely physical perspective. Check out his measurables, courtesy of MockDraftable.com.
He’s small (5’10”, 192 lbs) and slower than many (4.56 in the 40), but the spikes on the spider chart will show what makes him so productive, especially on short routes out of the slot. His 3-cone drill time is in the 95th percentile; Hardy changes directions with precision better than almost any other draft prospect. His hands are huge. I think hand size is generally overrated, but it does help when trying to make catches in traffic, as is often the case with a slot receiver.
He’s not a deep threat, and probably never will be. Luckily, the Falcons aren’t asking him to be. In Atlanta, Hardy will operate mostly short routes, usually out of the slot. It’s what he did in college, and it’s what he’s best suited to do in the pros. He’s complete enough to start for the Falcons immediately, and he can produce immediately in this role. The ceiling may not be particularly high with Hardy, but he’s already pretty close to that ceiling.
Projected longterm role: Slot receiver / Rotational WR
Projected 2015 role: Starting slot receiver