Scouting Report: Doesn't it feel like we've been talking about Hardy for 5 years as a prospect? Sure feels like it. But the fact is, Hardy is the best pure 4-3 DE prospect in this draft, and that might be an indictment on the position this season. Hardy is an excellent athlete, has great size for the position, and shows a lightning quick first step off the edge. He is able to work inside or outside with his pass rush moves and has great closing speed. Hardy's athleticism has never been in question as he's played on the Ole Miss basketball team, and even played a little offense. On paper he looks to be an ideal first round pick for a team wanting a situational pass rusher in the 4-3. his run defense isn't great, mainly because he doesn't do a great job disengaging from linemen on run plays, and doesn't always pick up the play quickly enough and is forced to chase. But that's not why you draft Hardy. You draft him to sack the quarterback and he can certainly do that. And the bad news? Like so many players in this draft, Hardy has a real problem staying healthy. This year, his season has been cut short by a broken wrist, last season a broken foot, and the start of this year an ankle sprain.
Draft Status: I realize that most have Hardy as a first round pick by default and I do as well. This year at Ole Miss. injuries have forced him into spot duty basically passing downs only. That may be his future in the NFL as well. This would not only minimize the shortcomings in his game, but hopefully keep him healthy and allow him to do what he does best. If a team is ok with all that, taking a flyer on Hardy in the first isn't a bad move. This is of course all contingent on how he checks out medically. A couple of medical red flags and a third down rush end could really fall.
Final Analysis: Hardy is the very definition of unrealized potential. Every year we waited for the season to start so we could marvel at his talent. We'd seen flashes of it, that's for sure. But the past two seasons, we've been let down by his inability to stay healthy. It's not his style of play because he's not the most physical guy. He seems to be a very well conditioned player so that doesn't seem to be a concern. Some guys just can't keep from getting nicked up, and Hardy looks to be one of those guys. His variety of pass rush moves and his pass rush skills are NFL caliber without a doubt. But it won't matter if you can't get on the field to showcase them. Oh, and I am not one of those who think Hardy could have a future in the 3-4 as a rush OLB. He's bigger this year, I would guess closer to 275 than 265, and the transition to playing with his hand up would be extreme for him. And it would require him to be more physical in run defense and I'm not sure if that's his game. Perhaps as a rush specialist in the 3-4 he could make it happen if he trimmed down, but Hardy looks to be most effective playing that right DE, hand on the ground.
Reminds me of: Dwight Freeney, DE Indianapolis Colts-Freeney is basically a pass rush only end with very little in terms of run support, and has had a problem throughout his career staying healthy. When he's on, he's impossible to stop off the edge but you can count on some lapses run support and absences because of injury. They have similar body types and their games are very much alike.
Red Flags: Medical
Scouting Report written by Curt Popejoy