Three years ago, James Hardy was a highly-touted NFL prospect, a guy who was viewed as a potential game-changer at the next level.
Now, Hardy finds himself toward the bottom of the Ravens’ depth chart, trying to battle his way onto an NFL roster.
The 6-foot-5, 220 lb. wideout, who was a second-round pick of the Bills back in the 2008 Draft, was signed to a reserve/future contract by the Ravens in January, giving him a clean slate. Hardy’s once-promising career never took off in Buffalo thanks to a torn ACL in 2009, but now, he’s excited for a start fresh with the Ravens.
“It’s awesome,” Hardy said at the Ravens’ players-only workout last week. “I’ve been waiting a year to be a part of an organization and now I’m part of the best one, I feel, and I’m ready to get to work.”
Standing next to Hardy, you immediately can see why NFL scouts were mesmerized with him coming out of Indiana University. Hardy looks exactly how you’d expect an elite NFL receiver to look - he’s tall, athletic, and built. He’s got the speed to turn on the jets and beat a defensive back down the field, and the then the strength to jump up and rip the ball away from a defender. Hardy put all those traits on display at the workout at Towson University last week.
It’s Hardy’s size and athleticism which led the Bills to select him with the 41st overall pick in 2008, and those traits have prompted Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome to rave - unprompted, mind you - about his offseason addition multiple times over the last few months.
“We think he’s a guy that has the opportunity to become a good player in this league,” Newsome said recently. “And maybe he can do that here in Baltimore.”
Hardy only totaled 10 receptions for 96 yards and two touchdowns in his two seasons (16 games) in Buffalo, but he clearly still has faith in his ability. He says he’s confident he can compete at the NFL level, and knows his rare mix of size and speed sets him apart from most other wide receivers in the league.
“I feel like I can bring the deep threat,” Hardy says. “That’s something that I specialized in college. Unfortunately, due to injuries, I wasn’t able to showcase that in Buffalo. Now, everything is healthy. I’m back to 100 percent.”
Hardy insists that injuries were the lone factor in his disappointing tenure in Buffalo, but the Bills disagreed, and cut Hardy even after he had returned to what they felt was full strength last September.
The wide receiver now appears to have Newsome’s backing, and he also has a connection to Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who is a former head coach at Indiana. Still, the 25-year-old wide receiver says he knows he needs to prove his talent on the field to stick around in Baltimore.
“It really doesn’t matter who you know in the organization,” Hardy said. “If you can’t bring nothing to the table, then you’re not going to be any use. I feel my raw ability and talent is the reason why I’m here.”
Unfortunately for Hardy, the Ravens selected wide receivers with two of their first four picks of April’s draft. Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss are now on board to compete with Hardy, David Reed, Marcus Smith, Justin Harper and Brandon Jones for roster spots behind Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason.
Still, as Hardy prepares to battle for a spot on the Ravens’ 53-man roster, he says he isn’t discouraged by the Ravens drafting Smith and Doss, adding extra competition.
“No, not at all,” Hardy said. “I have confidence in myself.”
When a player is released by one team, you often see him use it as a motivational tool when he catches on with another, claiming he’s going to prove that the previous team made a mistake by letting him go.
While Hardy says he won’t pull that card, you can tell that he’s eager to prove himself with the Ravens and is still slightly bitter with how his tenure ended in Buffalo.
“I don’t have to have any organization let me go to have any more motivation than what I have inside of me already,” Hardy said. “Unfortunately, they didn’t believe, and Baltimore did.”