NFL Draft Breakdown: East Carolina’s Justin Hardy

Justin Hardy, Wide Receiver, East Carolina University  

Height: 5’10″ (From Combine)
Weight: 192 lbs (From Combine)
Year: Sr

Trait Notes:
Hands – B
Routes – B-
Body Control – B
Consistency – B
Short Area Q & A – C+
Burst – C+
Top End Speed – B-
Size – C+
Run Blocking – C+
Overall Current Grade – C+ 
Overall Ceiling Grade – B

Hands, Routes, Body Control and Consistency:

Justin Hardy displays very good hands and has good hand size to back it up. Hardy is a pure hands catcher and does not let the ball get into his body. Hardy gets good arm extension on contested passes and shows good concentration when receiving contested passes.

At East Carolina Hardy was not given a full route tree to run. Hardy did a good job with what he was given and shows an ability to get solid depth in his routes. Hardy is not explosive in and out of his breaks and will struggle to separate in these areas. Hardy relies on a very good set of fakes to throw off coverage when in route and does a very good job adjusting his route to the play. Hardy understands how to find the soft spot in the coverage as well as come back to the ball. Hardy is a very physical receiver and this will help him tremendously with his route running as his overall athleticism will limit him to playing with a defender on his hip often.

Hardy shows good body control in all levels of the playing field. On the outside, Hardy shows good awareness and control coming down in bounds on throws to the sidelines. Hardy shows the ability to consistently shield off defenders with his body while extending out for the ball. Hardy has shown off some impressive acrobatic ability contorting his body while going up for passes and coming down. Overall, I was very pleased with how well he controls and uses his body as a weapon.

Consistency is a key part of Hardy’s game. Hardy was a very reliable first down target for Shane Carden and the ECU offense and he should serve in a similar role in the NFL.

Short Area Q & A, Burst and Top End Speed:

Hardy lacks explosive and quick-twitch traits that you’d like to see in a top slot prospect but he fully understands that it’s not his game and utilizes other traits and abilities to supplement for it. Hardy struggles to set, go and reset to juke out a defender and instead, Hardy utilizes a running back-like one-cut system to get up-field. Hardy will never be a dynamic player in small spaces but is adequate here none the less.

While Hardy lacks the quick-twitch traits in space, he doesn’t lack initial burst and get off. Hardy does a good job accelerating quickly out of the gate and has a strong enough upper body to get off press coverage. Out of breaks, Hardy does not possess the same burst as he does at the line and that goes back to how he must fight off coverage with upper body strength and fakes.

Hardy is not a burner by any stretch, he has adequate speed for a future slot guy and that most likely will be his spot in the NFL. Hardy did a good job with return duties at ECU and showed enough speed to return punts with good results. As a receiver entering the league, Hardy will not be outrunning any defenders. He’s a slightly above average runner on the field and his game will primarily revolve around catching and getting up-field quickly for the extra yards. Hardy has no problem fighting through tackles and that will be another big attribute for him considering his lack of burst and top end speed.

Size and Run Blocking:

Hardy is not a big receiver, standing at 5’10. Hardy has good upper body strength but needs to work on his lower half a bit still. He can definitely stand to add some bulk and strength to his legs to help him drive defenders off the line.

Hardy is a very good and willing run blocker. Hardy has a nastiness to him and will go full throttle at his man in the run game. Hardy displays surprisingly good technique for a receiver when blocking and will consistently out-will his man.

Where Justin Hardy Struggles:

Hardy needs to improve his technique in route running and could definitely stand to add some strength to his lower half. Hardy does a solid job in a lot of areas where players tend to need work on and in the end, his overall level of polish in these areas in some ways hurts his ceiling. Limited by his height, speed and explosiveness in open space, Hardy stands to have a lower ceiling to grow into than others in this draft.

Where does Justin Hardy potentially fit in with the Buccaneers?:

Hardy should be able to make an early impact for any potential team that drafts him, whether it’s in the slot or returning punts. For the Buccaneers, they could really use a young option in the slot to pair with their twin towers outside and potentially Winston behind center. Hardy could come in and provide toughness to the slot position and grind out the middle of the field while Evans, Jackson and Seferian-Jenkins work the deeper areas. Hardy also as mentioned, offers an upgrade at punt returner while learning the nuances of the slot position in the NFL.

Overall, Hardy comes in with a 7.6 grade for me. Hardy offers some instant impact ability both as a receiver and punt returner. Hardy will be a work in progress when it comes to his route running and learning the full tree but would be a wise investment to pair with a young quarterback.

Short Term Outlook:

Early impact in the slot as he progresses year 1. Day one special teams performer.

Long Term Outlook:

Reliable slot option long term for a team with some number two receiver potential. Quick-Twitch and top end speed limitations put a strangle hold on his potential as an outside target. Working mans player.

Draft Prediction: 

Early 3rd round pick.

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