With the draft looming and a million wide receiver prospects to think about, it's time we just fold to the inevitable and turn this into a series.
I've already looked at the tape of two players I really like for the Chiefs at WR: DeVante Parker and Tyler Lockett. Parker is likely to be gone by the time the Chiefs pick at 18 but can really play, and I'm of the opinion Lockett would be a fantastic choice in the 2nd round for the Chiefs.
So now I move on to a guy many people have requested I take a look at; Justin Hardy, wide receiver at East Carolina.
There are a few very vocal supporters of Hardy, and after the Lockett article multiple people suggested he would be a better 2nd or 3rd round option than Lockett. So, with 9 videos available of Hardy on Draft Breakdown, it's time to go to the tape.
Note- There seems to be some kind of misunderstanding by some who aren't familiar with Draft Breakdown. This is a site that is kind enough to make 6-10 minute videos of every snap a prospect took in a given game. Incredibly handy tool to VERY quickly roll through a prospect's tape. So no, this stuff isn't based on highlights. Also, let me know who else you want me to take a look at. Right now I'm planning on Nelson Agholor, Jaelen Strong, Breshad Perriman, Phillip Dorsett, and Devin Smith.
Justin Hardy's tape is... well, it's underwhelming.
I specifically made sure to watch Hardy's tape right after Tyler Lockett's, considering the similarities in some aspects of their game; smaller guys, not considered burners, route-running technicians who succeed by setting defenders up, "smart" players. It just makes sense to evaluate them back to back.
Frankly, it's not all that close. I won't make this article a comparison one, but I feel the need to state that before it gets lost in the discussion of Hardy's tape. I'm sure some will disagree and call me crazy. But then, I've been called a lot worse and it's very nearly always been true.
Here's my primary problem with Hardy; he just looks slow out there. Not "Jon Baldwin" slow, don't get me wrong. He's got enough speed to be highly productive at the college level. That can't be ignored.
However, I saw way too many semi-contested catches for my liking. I generally don't believe in WR's who can't achieve separation in college. It's only going to get that much harder in the pros. And while Hardy is able to get enough separation against the likes of NC Central and Florida, he's just not.. separate ENOUGH (not a real football term, FYI).
Hardy has some really nice qualities. His best quality is his ability to focus on the ball regardless of what's going on around him, adjust, and catch the ball with his hands.
That's not an easy adjustment and catch to make, and Hardy makes it look pretty easy.
Hardy also shows a real knack for shaking tackles after the catch. This is one area he far outstrips Lockett, who broke about half a tackle in the games I observed. Hardy shows good balance and does a nice job finding open areas to gain extra yards. He's really solid in that regard.
Hardy also works very hard as a run blocker and is a definite positive in that area. Whereas most wide receivers just try and get in the way a little and delay defenders, you can tell Hardy is looking for more. He's got a mean streak, which is nice to see in a wide receiver.
Hardy also plays with a ton of emotion. This can be both good and bad. On the good side of things, Hardy (and his teammates) would get absolutely fired up after big plays by Hardy. On the minus side, I don't think I've ever seen a wide receiver not named Eric Decker whine more after incomplete passes. Not every one can be a penalty, Justin, yanno?
So why, if Hardy has good hands, runs nice routes, and is a good blocker, and knows how to take advantage of zones (another strength of his that warrants mentioning), would I not be high on the guy? Isn't he basically everything I gushed about with Tyler Lockett and then some?
Look, part of this process is just simply gut feeling. When I watch Hardy I don't see a guy who will get separation at the next level the way he did in college. The way I phrased it to a pro-Hardy Chiefs fan on Twitter was that I see Hardy getting separation, but I don't see him getting SEPARATION.
In other words, part of the appeal of Hardy is that he does so well with contested catches. But do you know how you learn a player is good at contested catches? When he doesn't get enough separation to make UNcontested catches.
Now, part of this is on Hardy's quarterback, who struggled with timing and accuracy at times. But I would take him all day over the travesty I saw playing quarterback for K-State (sorry Wildcats, please don't say mean things about me!). This wasn't just a quarterback issue in my eyes. This was a "this guy does a great job working with a limited tool kit" issue.
To continue with the Lockett comparison, the easiest way to describe it would be to say that on any given route where Lockett would have 3 yards of separation, Hardy would have 1.5. He just couldn't, despite very crisp routes, really SEPARATE from defenders. And while he turned quite a few hips in the tape I watched, he very rarely flat-out humiliated corners the way I saw Lockett do it.
Would I take a 5th round flyer on Justin Hardy? I think so. Do I think he's the answer for the Chiefs at WR? I don't. In my experience, a receiver who is only creating limited separation in man situations against college competition is going to struggle doing even that in the NFL.
Additionally, defenders aren't going to even kind of respect Hardy on deep routes in the NFL. He just doesn't have long speed. Which makes separating on the short routes that much tougher. I just don't see Hardy as a productive NFL receiver.
The good news for Hardy is that me saying these things undoubtedly means he'll go on to be the best WR since Jerry Rice. So at least he's got that going for him. But if I'm John Dorsey I look elsewhere.
We'll continue the WR series this week with Dorsett or Perriman.