Biletnikoff Award voters really blew it this season. How else can they explain not even including Justin Hardy, the NCAA’s all-time receiving leader (376 catches) who ranks sixth in major college annals with 4,374 aerial yards that produced 34 touchdowns off their list of ten semi-finalists? They can not cite the 2014 campaign as a “down year” for the “Y” receiver, as he pulled down 110 balls for 1,334 yards and nine touchdowns.
The favorite to win the Burlsworth Award (nation’s top walk-on), Hardy firmly established himself as the best receiver in school history, becoming the first Pirate to gain over 1,000 yards receiving (1,105 in 2012 and 1,284 in 2013) in multiple seasons, along with setting the ECU annual mark with 114 grabs as a junior. He also averaged 8.0 yards via 60 punt returns during his career.
He is a big-play artist with above average timed speed and playing quickness. He plays with good awareness and shows the ability to make adjustments while trying to avoid the jam. He might lack ideal size, but has a nice hesitation move to fool the defender and that extra gear, to go along with good hand placement to defeat the press.
The senior has outstanding straight-line quickness and builds to top speed in an instant. Even though he lacks great bulk, his hand usage and burst will generally see him defeat the press. He gets into his routes smoothly and excels at eating up the defender’s cushion. Even when his speed fails to elude the defensive back, he has the hip wiggle and shake needed to prevent from being rerouted.
Hardy might not look physical enough to fight off the jam, but knows how to use his arm-over action to separate when the defender attempts to press. While some teams might look at his frame and feel he might not withstand the constant punishment press coverage cornerbacks “dish out” at the NFL level, he has verified weight room numbers of 285 pounds in the bench press, along with a 360-pound back squat and 280-pound power clean.
Tennessee and Seattle seem to be the teams giving Hardy the most attention, as both are looking for a slot receiver who can handle some return duties. He is just not the type that can suddenly explode off the line, needing room to get to top speed (does it quickly though). When he does not execute moves and tries to just take off after the snap, he can be reroute by a more physical opponent.
The East Carolina senior is best when using his change of direction, shake and foot quickness to freeze the defender, as he has the acceleration to get up field when he creates a lane. His problem occurs when he gets “too cute” and dances too much. He flashes very quick cutting ability to get in-&-out of his breaks, playing at a low pad level to generate even more speed in his stride.
When given a clear lane, Hardy has that up field burst, doing a nice job of avoiding defenders through the route’s progression. He can create lanes and gain valid yardage after the catch. There are stretches during the game where he gets too busy with the cornerback at the line of scrimmage and is then late to get into his route. His running stride lets him attain long acceleration down the sidelines and he shows good ability to separate after the catch (needs to work on slight hip stiffness, though). He does a fine job of tracking the ball in flight, especially on long throws over his outside shoulder.
Hardy has that extra gear to elude in the open field, but needs to do a better job of selling the route and setting up his breaks. When he is lined up in man coverage, he is very capable of rocking the cornerbacks on their heels and getting them out of the backpedal early. He still needs to be more physical vs. the press, but it is his acceleration that allows him to turn a short pass into a big play.
Hardy has the burst and change of direction skills to be effective as a short area receiver, but in order to do it consistently, he needs to do a better job of setting up his breaks. With minimal moves, fakes and inconsistent wiggle, he is the type that will need space to have success in this area. When he plays with the proper center of gravity and drops his weight well, he has the ability to snap in and out of his cuts.
Hardy does a nice job of looking the ball in flight over either shoulder. He is a natural hands catcher with a long reach for a smaller receiver. He prefers to have the ball inside his window to make the short area catch, but will extend to pluck outside his frame on long patterns. He also shows good urgency and body control digging out the low throws.
The receiver is alert to the quarterback scrambles, adjusting accordingly and has a knack for avoiding defenders and finding the seams. He will contort and sacrifice his body to get to the off-target passes and even when he is caught in traffic, protecting the ball is his highest priority.
Hardy is a home run threat once he creates space to operate. He might not have the power to break tackles and does have a bit of hip stiffness, but he is very quick to locate the seam, get “skinny” and slip through tight areas. If he gets room, he can turn and head up field with an underneath catch for big yardage. He has the playing speed to get behind the defenders and uses his hands well to fend off low tackles in attempts to prevent from getting tripped up.
The Pirate receiver is better off making the catch when he can create space rather than going for the ball in a crowd. He short arms the ball too often working in traffic, but if he spots a seam, he can get valid yardage after the catch. He is better served lined wide, even though his size indicates he’s more likely a slot receiver. His issues working over the middle will be a problem as a slot receiver, though. He is a home run threat that is better served attacking the deep secondary than trying to move the chains working inside.
Justin Hardy Scouting Combine measurables
5-10/192 (4.56 forty)
32 1/8-inch arm length
36.5-inch vertical jump
114-inch broad jump
6.63 3 cone drill
4.21 20 yard shuttle
Dave-Te’ Thomas is a sports writer, talent evaluator and scouting personnel consultant for a majority of teams in the National Football League. Thomas runs a scouting information service called NFL Scouting Services and produces THE NFL Draft Report, a publication provided by league headquarters to the media in preparation for the NFL Draft.
SCOUT.COM DRAFT RANKINGS
Position: QB RB FB WR TE OT OG C DT DE OLB MLB S CB K P LS