In the world of fantasy football, Matt Ryan and Julio Jones are stars just like they are in real football games. They will be key players in just about every league, but could an Atlanta Falcons draftee be a sleeper to help your team?
That man is Justin Hardy, the wide receiver out of East Carolina. Hardy will battle for a starting role in the slot, and should come right in and fill the void left by Harry Douglas. I actually believe Hardy has the potential to perform at a higher level than Douglas did.
But how could he help your fantasy team?
Plenty of space
First of all, he should be able to get open. With all the weapons the Falcons will have on the field, defenses simply can’t afford to put too much emphasis on Hardy, as they will consequently get burned by Julio Jones or Roddy White.
When you throw in Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman, who should both give the ground game a major jolt, defenses have too much else on their plate to be worrying about Hardy.
Hardy has the potential to become Matt Ryan’s best friend in the passing game. Where he will excel is in the short to intermediate routes, where Ryan can throw it off to him and sit back as Hardy gains yards after the catch.
As a senior, over 70 percent of his receptions went for first downs, per Lance Zierlein of NFL.com. His ability to gain yards after the catch and potentially hit the home run would be of great benefit to fantasy owners.
Jan 3, 2015; Birmingham, AL, USA; East Carolina Pirates wide receiver Justin Hardy (2) catches a touchdown pass against the Florida Gators during Birmingham Bowl at Legion Field. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports
Injury concerns to the front two
Both Jones and White have injury histories, and if one should go down, Hardy could find himself lifted to the WR2 spot.
Sep 28, 2014; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White (84) celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Julio Jones (11) during the first quarter against the Minnesota Vikings at TCF Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports
In a high-scoring offense, there will be plenty of production for the No. 2 guy. If White was to go down, plenty of coverage would be used to shut down Jones, which would make Hardy an essential piece of the Atlanta offense.
If you own Jones or White in your team, picking up Hardy would make sense in case of such an injury. You would then already have the replacement ready to step up as opposed to having to fight for him on the waiver wire.
Of course, we hope injuries don’t hit the Falcons’ wide receiver corps, especially not to #11. But if it does happen, Hardy’s fantasy value will rise dramatically.
Hardy will be used on the hot route
The Falcons’ offensive line has struggled in recent years, and this could lead to teams bringing the house with a blitz to put Matt Ryan under instant pressure.
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When Ryan expects a blitz, Hardy will often find himself running the hot route and will become the go-to guy to burn defenses — this could potentially set up big gains.
Hardy isn’t going to be in high demand by fantasy owners, but this could play right into your hands. If he is available in the later rounds while you are filling up your bench, he could be worth the risk.
The worst case scenario, he doesn’t make an impact and sits on your bench, and in this case you could release him or use him in a trade package.
The best case? You find late-round value in a guy who will see nice production in the slot and be the perfect addition to your roster in the flex spot or even as a starter.