Justin Hardy, WR/PR, East Carolina – 2015

All-Star Games: Senior Bowl.

Positives: Runs with above-average speed, and accelerates well after the catch. Is very quick, with good change-of-direction ability. Runs above-average routes, and they have improved over his college career. His breaks are crisp and sudden, and he understands how to set up defensive backs well to get positioning on slants. He also completes his routes to maintain separation from comebacks. Has very good hands and hand-eye coordination – can extend to highpoint passes, catching with his hands consistently instead of letting the ball get to his body. He’s helped in this by his good hand size and hand strength – strong enough to hold the ball while defenders are trying to strip it away. His hands are quick, and he is able to wait until the last second to adjust his position or route and go up for passes – making it hard for cornerbacks to cover him. Good body control and adjusts very well to snag fast passes. He knows to come back to help scrambling quarterbacks. Good vertical leap and seems to be a solid red-zone target who wins jump ball situations. Has good open field vision for extra yards. Above-average balance after contact high on his frame and can keep going through traffic in the open field. Fair concentration and can catch a pass even after he slips. Tracks passes well over his inside shoulder. Fights for yards consistently and doesn’t make himself easy to tackle. Is strong enough to hold the ball when he’s getting hit hard. Is also a pretty good downfield blocker. Above-average vision and creativity as a punt returner and seems to catch the ball effortlessly. He also gets himself in good position on punts to head upfield and make defenders miss immediately. Above-average ball security technique down the field and will protect both hands.

Negatives: Below-average height and slightly below-average bulk for the position. Will sometimes have lapses in concentration. Seems to misjudge passes in flight a bit. Needs to be more aware of depth of comeback route, but seemed improved in this in his senior year.

Projection: Round 2. He reminds me of a stronger Brandin Cooks, who went to the Saints in the first round in 2014. I expect him to be even better than Cooks has been in the NFL, and he’s about as ready to contribute as a wide receiver can be. Most people have Hardy as either a Round 2 or later pick, but I rate him as worthy of going higher, And, in this top-heavy WR draft, teams will be able to pick up pretty immediate starters into the Round 3.

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