Atlanta Falcons: It’s time for Justin Hardy


A rising problem for the Atlanta Falcons is the production of the wide receivers. For those not named Julio Jones, there has been a worrying lack of consistency at the position.

Jones has been outstanding this year, but he’s been somewhat limited in recent weeks with a hamstring injury. What’s concerning is the lack of firepower in the passing game from the other receivers. Leonard Hankerson has made some plays, but it hasn’t happened often enough.

Below is a table of the Falcons receiving stats through six games. The notable name is that of running back Devonta Freeman, who currently sits second in receptions, targets and yards.

[table id=45 /]

Freeman has been electric since getting his first start in Week 3, but right now he is outperforming the players who are there to consistently complement Jones in the passing game.

Roddy White caught his first touchdown pass of the season against New Orleans, but he’s been largely absent this season. His 11 receptions for 138 yards is way below par of the No. 2 receiving spot he held at the start of the season.

That role now belongs to Leonard Hankerson. Outside of a few encouraging spells, he is yet to leave his mark. The free agent acquisition has been dealing with a ribs injury the past two games, but he has only hit the 100-yard mark once, and hasn’t come close in the other five contests.

So, what is the solution?

Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

Unfortunately, I went outside and shook the wide receiver tree, and there is no Julio Jones 2.0. But that’s not what the Falcons need. What they need is somebody who can gain separation and eat up yards on a regular basis, cooling the pressure on the premier receivers.

Enter rookie Justin Hardy, selected in the fourth round of May’s draft. Hardy has been praised for his sharp route running and safe hands, and he can be a reliable target for Matt Ryan. Offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan believes the team will need him at some point this season, per Andrew Hirsh of

"“I don’t know when it’ll be, but I know there’s going to be a time this year when we’re going to need him. And the way he’s going right now, he’s going to be ready,” Shanahan said."

With the production at receiver far from what we have expected, is it time to get Hardy involved? There’s clearly a reason why he has been inactive for all six games this season with the Falcons opting for Nick Williams, but with the talent on the field not getting the job done, why not give him a shot? 

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Hardy can be a frustrating player to cover in the slot. With Jones, Hankerson and Freeman all requiring attention from the defense, the rookie’s route running ability and talent in short to intermediate routes could help sustain drives.

Per NFL draft analyst Lance Zierlein, 70 percent of Hardy’s catches as a senior went for first downs.

Zierlein also noted Hardy’s blocking ability. He wrote that “with more teams running the ball out of three-WR sets, some coordinators will see value in the way Hardy gets after run-blocking assignments.” This could be a benefit for Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman in what is becoming an explosive rushing attack.

The Falcons offense has been excellent this season, but in recent weeks we have seen a reliant on Freeman to produce on the ground and when split out as a receiver. With Jones still dealing with a hamstring injury, the Saints had their way too often and forced the offense off the field.

Roddy White and Leonard Hankerson aren’t consistently getting the job done and it’s putting too much emphasis on Jones and Freeman to have big days. One man, who the Falcons believed was worth a fourth round selection, could be able to help.

Ladies and gentleman, it’s time for Justin Hardy.

Next: Why the Falcons will bounce back