Hardy Aims to Improve Draft Stock

GREENVILLE, N.C. — ECU receiver Justin Hardy looks to put himself on the radar of NFL scouts this year.

Senior Justin Hardy has already cemented his place in East Carolina history as, arguably, the school’s most prolific receiver.

The former walk-on from Vanceboro, N.C. already owns school records for receiving yards (3,047) and touchdown catches (25), while sitting just 84 catches shy of the Football Bowl Subdivision record for receptions (Ryan Broyles, 349).

As a result of his gaudy statistics, there have already been projections released that have Hardy being selected as high as the first round in next spring’s NFL Draft.

Hardy — following a record-setting 114 catches and 1,284 yards in 2013 — gave the NFL some thought earlier this year, reaching out to ECU quarterback Shane Carden and seeking advice prior to deciding he was best served to return for his senior season.

“I just did some evaluations. I’ve got some guys higher up (in administration), talked to those guys and got their opinion. And at the end of the day, I came back,” said Hardy.

The biggest concerns surrounding the six-foot, 188-pound receiver are whether he or not he is simply a product of ECU’s “Air Raid” offense and if he can be a deep threat at the next level.

During his sophomore season, Hardy led all receivers with 12 “big plays,” which are gains of at least 20 yards, but in offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley’s system, most of his catches are typically underneath the coverage of defensive backs and in the slot.

“I thought, last year, teams tried to play probably a little bit more conservative on him,” Riley said. “There are always things that he can get better at and (becoming a deep threat), along with a number of other things, was one of the things we challenged him with.

Riley coached exclusively with wide receivers at Texas Tech prior to arriving at ECU; working with Red Raiders standout Michael Crabtree, who was drafted 10th overall in the 2009 NFL Draft.

During certain points over the last few seasons, Riley said he’s seen a lot of Crabtree in Hardy and thinks the recipe for him catch the attention of NFL scouts is to continue what he’s done.

“Keep a good reputation off the field, first and foremost,” said Riley of what he has advised Hardy to do. “I think there is a bigger push for that in the NFL — which there should be — right now than in any point I can remember.

“If you stay focused on your job … like he has done throughout his career, I think all those opportunities that he wants and we want for him will happen down the road.”

Inside receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick called Hardy a “definite first round pick” at ECU’s media day earlier this month and over the summer, a few other college football analysts projected Hardy as a fringe first-rounder.

So with a few more records still on the table and critics’ concerns to address, Hardy now has the attention of a national audience. But for those who continue to doubt him, that’s nothing new to him — Hardy received no FBS offers coming out of West Craven High School and was perceived to be undersized when he arrived at ECU.

“Me coming on as a walk-on, having a chip on my shoulder not being recruited coming out of high school, that is still something that I use to play with.”

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