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Justin Hardy: The New New Harry Douglas (in a good way)

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justin-hardy-wr-falcons

Leonard Hankerson looks a lot like the prototypical successful wide receiver. He’s 6-1 and 209-pounds with almost 11 inch hands and a sub 4.5 40-time. He was ridiculously dominant in college.  His speed and HaSS metrics are both above the 80th percentile. These measurements belong to a man that has generated a good deal of buzz this offseason as he settles into Atlanta on a one-year deal.

On the other equally large hand, Justin Hardy finds himself in Falcons camp vying for the 3rd receiver spot with Hankerson. Hardy stands three inches shorter and weighs a full twenty pounds less than his competition. His speed and HaSS measurables are in the 38th and 17th percentile respectively. Seems like a pretty simple choice for the coaching staff, and it will be.

Harry Douglas 2.0

At this point, it should be pointed out that Hankerson and Hardy are competing for a slot role this summer. The Falcons lost Harry Douglas to the Titans this offseason, opening up his 74 targets and a 51/556/2 stat line. Douglas’ profile seems eerily similar to one of the new incoming receivers.

[harry douglas]-playerprofiler

Harry Douglas Advanced Metrics Profile

Looks a lot like:

[justin hardy]-playerprofiler

Justin Hardy Advanced Metrics Profile

[Ed. Note:  Minus the vacant stare.]

Douglas and Hardy are both best compared to Doug Baldwin, which suggests they could also be compared to each other. Even more interesting is the correlation between slot receivers and agility scores. Hardy and Douglas are both above the 85th percentile. Julian Edelman, the top slot man in the game right now, has an agility score in the 99th percentile. The scores reasonably relate to route running and the ability to separate from defenders.

[julian edelman]-playerprofiler

Julian Edelman Advanced Metrics Profile

All three have sub-par HaSS numbers, but all three share similar heights, weights, and agility scores. Like Wes Welker, Lance Moore, and Eddie Royal before them, Edelman, Douglas, and Hardy fit the NFL’s slot receiver prototype. Looking more like Sammy WatkinsPierre Garçon, and Roddy White himself, Leonard Hankerson is the odd man out in this comparison. His size and athletic measureables indicate Hankerson is a better fit for the X rather than the Y receiver role in the Atlanta Falcons’ offense.

[leonard hankerson]-playerprofiler

Leonard Hankerson Advanced Metrics Profile

Hardy and Hankerson actually had similar combines. Their speed and agility differences can be seen in their 40 and 3-cone times, but aside from those drills their numbers are nearly identical. It may be harder for Hardy to pop off of the page due to the recent infatuation with 40 times, but his hands and 3 cone time should be enough for anyone to see that he is a more-than-capable receiver. 

Player 40 Time Broad Jump Vertical 3 cone Shuttle
Hankerson 4.43 s 117 in 36.0 in 6.94 s 4.21 s
Hardy 4.56 s 114 in 36.5 in 6.63 s 4.21 s

A lesser agility score does not necessarily mean Leonard Hankerson is a poor fit for the Falcons slot receiver role, but when viewed in conjunction with his lackluster career production and injury history, skepticism rises. Hankerson is coming off an ACL tear that forced him to miss the entire 2014 NFL season. He missed the 2011 season after tearing the labrum in his right hip and in his two healthy seasons, he failed to surpass 60 targets, 600 yards or 3 TD’s. Justin Hardy may be slower and smaller than Leonard Hankerson, but he fits the prototypical NFL slot WR archetype.

Narrative Brick Walk

With their fourth round pick this year, the Atlanta Falcons snagged the best hands in the entire draft class, a willing run blocker, and a young man who emulates Jerry Rice. Like Rice, Hardy caught bricks throughout high school to toughen and strengthen his hands. He walked on to a D-I school (ECU), started, and played four full seasons. He turned those four years into a 387/4541/35 stat line; the most career catches in college football history.

Perennial starting flanker Roddy White is turning 34 this season. His targets have decreased steadily since 2011 (from 179 down to 124 in 2014) and the Falcons will soon need a replacement. Leonard Hankerson compares favorably to White, but the NFL is a “show me” business. If Hardy beats out Hankerson for playing time this offseason, there is no guarantee the Falcons will keep Hankerson after his one-year deal expires.

These two players are competing for a 60/600/2 stat line this year. That’s just over a hundred ½ point PPR fantasy points. Justin Hardy is being drafted earlier in dynasty drafts with a 12th-round startup ADP (mid/late third-round in rookie drafts). Meanwhile, Hankerson is going undrafted or in the very late rounds. Both players offer great value, but passing up on Hardy’s value to pursue Hankerson would be a mistake.

Summary

If you’re still not convinced that Justin Hardy is the Falcons’ slot receiver of the future, just watch the first 45 seconds of this video.
And then pretend the football is a brick.
And then go draft Justin Hardy.

To recap,

  • Whoever wins the battle to be the Falcons’ WR3 will fill the slot role
  • Successful true slot receivers tend to be agile due to the nature of the position
  • Hardy is incredibly agile; Pre-injury Hankerson looked more like an outside receiver
  • Hardy is completely healthy while Hankerson’s career has been marred by serious injuries
  • The Falcons invested meaningful draft capital into Hardy
  • Hankerson was a dominant receiver five years and several injuries ago, but
  • Hardy just turned in one of the most productive college careers of all time.

Like Jeff Janis is Jordy Nelson‘s outside understudy in Green Bay and Corey Washington is Odell Beckham‘s outside understudy in New York, Leonard Hankerson would likely be called upon to replace Julio Jones if Atlanta’s starting split end/X receiver is injured. However, assuming the Falcons’ receiving corps is healthy, the best fit for Atlanta’s starting slot/Y receiver role is Justin Hardy.

Christopher Gerrish is a mechanical engineering student in Los Angeles. He liked Allen Robinson way before everyone else did. Follow him @gerrishbrosff