Justin Hardy joined the Falcons in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft, Dan Quinn’s first in Atlanta, and did nothing for four seasons but provide steady if limited production as the team’s fourth receiver. In four years, he reeled in 76 receptions for 751 yards and nine touchdowns, provided underrated blocking ability, and enjoyed a brief and ill-fated adventure as one of the team’s returners.
For all that, he made it to free agency this year without a word from the Falcons about whether he’d be returning or not. With Dirk Koetter re-joining the offense, it was not at all clear whether the Falcons would be making an effort to bring him back, and whether Hardy would get a better offer elsewhere.
Happily, he did not.
Hardy won’t get a lot of work in this passing game—his career high for targets is 36 and his career high for receptions is just 21—but he has a real role in this offense as a terrific blocker and sure-handed option in the red zone. He’s unlikely to take on a returner role—Kenjon Barner or a rookie should lock those down—but barring a decent investment in the draft or Russell Gage emerging, he’ll be the fourth receiver yet again for Atlanta. If the team had lesser options for their top three spots that might be an issue, but Hardy’s skills complement what this offense needs its fourth receiver to be, and it’s good to see him coming back.
With Hardy in the fold, the Falcons have five receivers and a couple of young options under contract, which means they don’t have to invest in receiver in this upcoming draft. I still expect them to seriously consider doing so with Koetter in the fold, but whoever it is will be unlikely to pass Hardy on the depth chart this year. With any luck, he’ll continue to be a quietly valuable piece of the offense while Gage and any new options develop in 2019.