Justin Hardy is, in many ways, the glue guy in this particular set of wide receivers. He’s no Julio Jones or Taylor Gabriel, with their amazing speed, and he isn’t quite the same player Mohamed Sanu is. He’s stuck at fourth on this depth chart, something that isn’t likely to change at all this year, but Hardy does a lot of vital, underappreciated things.
He’s quick, sure-handed, and has improved his route running every season, capping off the 2016 regular season with four touchdowns on just 21 grabs. Hardy also remains a vital special teamer and one of the most effective blocking receivers on the roster, so his contributions on gameday are legion even if he’s one of the less-targeted options in the passing game. Mohamed Sanu recently made a point of praising Hardy’s work this offseason, as well, so he could be heading for a larger role.
So what will the Falcons get from Hardy this year?
Unfortunately for Hardy, his upside is capped by the sheer number of options ahead of him. Julio will dominate targets, Sanu and Gabriel will eat, and everyone from Austin Hooper to the team’s dynamic running back duo are more likely to see targets than Hardy. If he gets more than 30 or so, it probably means someone got hurt. Fortunately for Hardy, he’s not going to draw much in the way of dedicated coverage, and he showed himself to be a red zone asset a year ago. He can probably make a lot out of those targets, and if someone does get injured, the team shouldn’t have any qualms about trusting him to take on a larger role.
Look for Hardy to be the team’s six or seventh leading receiver this year, but it wouldn’t shock me in the slightest if he’s once again top three or so in actual touchdown grabs. He’ll continue to quietly play well for one of the NFL’s most high-powered offenses, and if he continues to do so, maybe he’ll get a crack at bigger things in 2018 and beyond.