So, as we head into July with training camp in our view, we’ll continue to pontificate and posture what the Atlanta Falcons will look like this coming season.
All signs point toward a fun one, and we’ve talked a lot about the obvious things that come with being excited for this team. There’s a lot to be grateful for, and a few things that make you ponder where the actual ceiling might be.
But, what about the things people aren’t talking about, or the players not getting a lot of attention?
My pick for the unsung Falcon of the bunch is WR Justin Hardy, who will be heading into the most crucial season of his career thus far.
Hardy has been a reliable, if underused, receiver throughout his tenure with the Falcons. He’s very quietly been stupendous for a fourth receiver in the last two years, posting up 221 yards and three touchdowns in 2017, and 203 yards and four touchdowns in 2016. He had 194 yards his rookie season.
That might not seem like a lot in general for a starter, but for a fourth receiver on a roster, that’s mightily impressive, and shows the trust that this team has in Hardy to get involved in the game plan. He’s one of the unsung cogs that makes this offense sing when it’s on, and in 2018, he can no doubt be counted on to contribute roughly the same amount of numbers moving ahead.
Where things get interesting with Hardy come with how he does in 2018, and how that translates to 2019. If Hardy continues to get better and deliver solid contributions, and rookie WR Calvin Ridley looks ready to take on an even larger role in 2019, we could see a situation where Hardy is promoted to the team’s main slot position.
The Falcons have a bit of a financial dilemma at the position going forward, now that Julio Jones is ready for a raise, and Mohamed Sanu is entering the heavy part of his deal. With Ridley in town, they’ll have to account for his fifth-year bump one of these days, too. Let’s say the team gives Julio the extension before it’s all said and done, and decides to part ways with Sanu after 2018 to help offset the Jones deal and free a little space up for the other contracts on the horizon. It’s fair to think Agent 12 could get a bigger deal elsewhere if he’s released.
In this world, Ridley would no doubt pop up to Sanu’s spot on the depth chart, and would leave the WR3 position open. Hardy could slot (heh) in there on a new deal, and assume more reps in the offense. Remember, before Taylor Gabriel came to town right before the 2016 season, Hardy was the guy holding that spot in the first place. The team could draft a young replacement, but then again, if Hardy’s ready for it, he could get a team-friendly extension, and still give the team a formidable trio to toss out on Sundays at receiver.
It’s all kind of speculation right now, but it’s a storyline that hasn’t gotten a ton of buzz that could be important going ahead. If Hardy impresses as the WR4 again this season, we could see him be given even more responsibility going ahead. But, this could also be Hardy’s last year with the team. It could go any number of ways, which adds to the intrigue.
So, Hardy is mine. Who is yours? Sound off in the comments below, and let us know who we should keep a firmer eye on.