Falcons offseason spotlight: Justin Hardy

081815 FLOWERY BRANCH: Falcons rookie wide receiver Justin Hardy makes a leaping one handed catch during team practice on Tuesday, August, 18, 2015, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

081815 FLOWERY BRANCH: Falcons rookie wide receiver Justin Hardy makes a leaping one handed catch during team practice on Tuesday, August, 18, 2015, in Flowery Branch. Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

FLOWERY BRANCH – Before diving into the final draft stretch run, Falcons coach Dan Quinn shared some thoughts with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution about six players he’s counting on to elevate their games in 2016.

He wants them to slide from being role players to becoming major contributors. The group includes defensive end/linebacker Vic Beasley, cornerback Jalen Collins, running back Tevin Coleman, defensive tackle Grady Jarrett, wide receiver Justin Hardy and free safety Robenson Therezie.
Today, we’ll look at Hardy, who was drafted it the fourth-round (107th overall) of the 2015 draft out of East Carolina. Since we discussed Collins, he’s flunked a performance enhancement test and will be suspended for the first four games of the season. He had the inside path to the starting right cornerback spot.
Hardy was inactive at the beginning of the season because he was learning how to read a pro-styled playbook. He ended up playing in nine games and made one start.
Hardy, who finished with 21 catches on 36 targets for 194 yards and no touchdowns, needs to work on creating separation from defenders against man-to-man coverage.
“As an inside player you want to beat man-to-man someway on third down,” Quinn said. “That’s generally what you have to be able to do. If you’re playing inside leverage, how do I step to get you to work and open up one way so I can come back the other way. That ability to separate and beat man-to-man is going to be an important part of his development. He worked really hard at it over the last half of the season a great deal.”
The Falcons were pleased with Hardy’s play on special teams.
Hardy attended the players-only camp in Fort Lauderdale, Fla at the end of March.
“Justin looked great,” Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan said. “He was in great shape. He’s got great hands. Obviously, he’s got really strong hands.”
Ryan believes that Hardy can drastically improve his play.
“He’s a guy who I think looked a lot more comfortable,” Ryan said. “He looked a lot more comfortable than last year. That’s one of the biggest jumps from Year One to Year Two, just understanding everything that goes
along with it. He looked really comfortable and that’s going to be really good for us.”
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