Having reached what he himself deemed "the pinnacle of [his] college football career," Indiana University record-setting wideout James Hardy is ready to turn pro. Hardy has decided to forgo his senior year and declared himself eligible for selection in the 2008 NFL Draft. The 23-year-old's years as a Hoosier were consistently brilliant: after redshirting his true freshman year, Hardy earned his way to All-Big Ten Conference second-team honors in 2005 with 61 receptions for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns. He finished 2006 with similarly stellar results, with 51 catches for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns.
However, his best was yet to come. During his junior season, Hardy had 79 receptions for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns (second in the nation) - becoming the Hoosiers' all-time career leader in receptions, touchdowns and receiving yards. He was named the team's Most Valuable Player and honored as both an All-Big Ten Conference first-team selection and an Associated Press Third-Team All-American. Although his collegiate feats went largely unnoticed on the national level, Hardy has been making a splash early for this spring's draft. He ran an impressive 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash at the 2008 NFL Scouting Combine and impressed scouts with strong upper body strength on the bench press with 18 reps at 225 pounds. He has been widely deemed as a late first- or early second-round pick.
Hardy has shot up the draft boards due to his phenomenal size and freakish athletic ability. At 6-foot-5 3/8 and 217 pounds, he has a huge frame and very long arms for a receiver. In addition to his excellent leaping ability, he times his jumps well and knows how to take advantage of his size and use his body in gaining position to shield off defenders. These natural talents help him work well in traffic and easily break away from tackles after the catch - much like Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Marshall.
Coaches love that he is a big red-zone target and are drooling over his upside. With comparisons to New York Giants receiver Plaxico Burress also in the mix, Hardy has been lauded for his increased threat level at the ends of the field and his big, but soft and reliable hands.
Though not exceptionally strong, Hardy has the size to make it difficult for average-sized corners to jam him at the line or knock him off his routes. He has good awareness on the field and keeps his routes alive when his quarterback is forced to ad-lib. He's not afraid to go over the middle and can hold onto the ball after taking a hit.
The main knock against Hardy is that he has not yet been able to fully develop into a skilled receiver - that is, many aspects of his game are still raw. He needs to work on separation from cornerbacks as well as fine-tuning his route-running. Very often, he is not considered a downfield threat.
Scouts are also concerned with his lack of desirable mental and physical strength. He tends to be bullied around by bigger cornerbacks and lacks the aggressive attitude that football players need. He must look to develop a stronger core and more muscle bulk if he wants to stay away from injury. Added muscle is also a necessity to becoming an every down receiver as he needs to become a more effective blocker in the running game.
Also, his off-field behavior has drawn some red flags. Hardy was charged with domestic battery in 2006 in an altercation with his family and must learn to contain himself in a league that is becoming less and less tolerant.
Expected Draft Placement
Hardy is one of the draft's true physical specimens and a solid second-round choice that could find himself coming off of draft boards as early as the later stages of the first round. The Washington Redskins at No. 21 appear to be about the highest Hardy could hear his named called, but that seems a bit high. The Tennessee Titans (No. 24) and Dallas Cowboys (No. 28) are also first-round possibilities. If he gets out of the first round don't expect to go for with teams like the St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Buffalo Bills and Denver Broncos all in the market for receiving help and all having selections in first 11 picks of the second round. Whichever team selects should be viewing Hardy as a project, which means ideally they would be a team that could afford some risk.
About James Li
James Li has been a KFFL contributor since 2006.
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