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All right, draftniks. You know that Pewter Report is the undisputed king of Tampa Bay Buccaneers draft coverage. We’ve listed players, such as defensive end Gaines Adams (2007), linebacker Quincy Black (2007), wide receiver Maurice Stovall (2006), quarterback Bruce Gradkowski (2006), middle linebacker Barrett Ruud (2005), cornerback Torrie Cox (2003) – among others, at their respective positions in the Bucs’ Best Bets sections of Pewter Report’s annual Bucs Draft Preview.
As the 2008 NFL Draft approaches, Pewter Report’s resident draft expert, Scott Reynolds, has spent countless hours watching over 12 college games per week and scouting which prospects would look good wearing red and pewter next year. With over 500 college games to review dating back over the last four years and countless scouting contacts throughout the NFL, Reynolds is armed with the inside scoop needed to put together these scouting reports on players who might fit Tampa Bay’s schemes on offense and defense.
The casual football fan already has a good deal of knowledge on likely first-round draft prospects, such as LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey, Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm and Virginia defensive end Chris Long. The goal of these regular Pewter Insider features on PewterReport.com is to inform you about players that will likely go in rounds 2-7 that might help the Buccaneers. We’ll make an exception with this report, though, as there is a lot of interest in a local Tampa Bay-area player who could wind up as a Buccaneer in the first round of the 2008 NFL Draft.
Will one of these players wind up being the next Ruud, Stovall or Gradkowski? We’ll all find out next April when Tampa Bay is on the clock.
INDIANA WIDE RECEIVER JAMES HARDY
VITAL STATS: The Hoosiers’ James Hardy may be the tallest receiver in the 2008 NFL Draft. Hardy was listed on Indiana’s Web site as being 6-foot-7, 220 pounds. When he weighs in at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis next week, we’ll see if he is actually 6-foot-7 or if he is closer to 6-foot-6.
Hardy, who left Indiana after his junior season, is expected to run between a 4.5 and 4.6 in the 40-yard dash in Indianapolis.
In 2004-05, Hardy played on the Indiana basketball team, starting three of 23 games he played in.
Hardy was remarkably consistent in his three seasons as a starter at Indiana. After redshirting his freshman season, Hardy recorded 61 catches for 893 yards and 10 touchdowns in 2004 while missing one game due to injury.
As a sophomore, Hardy missed two games due to injury, but still finished the year with 51 receptions for 722 yards and 10 touchdowns. He was named second-team all-Big 10 in 2006.
His junior season saw some career-best numbers as Hardy caught 79 balls for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns en route to becoming a first-team all-Big 10 performer. Hardy’s 16 touchdowns were the second most scores by a receiver in college in 2007.
RECORDS AND SUPERLATIVES
Hardy left Indiana scoring 36 touchdowns in 33 games, which is the best touchdown-to-game ratio in school history. His career numbers of 191 catches for 2,740 yards and 36 scores are all school records, in addition to Hardy’s junior year single season numbers. He is generally regarded as the best receiver in school history.
Hardy was a big reason why the Hoosiers went to a bowl game for the first time in 14 years, although Indiana lost to Oklahoma State, 49-33.
He posted 14 100-yard receiving games in three years, including one 200-yard performance. Hardy also had four games in which he caught at least 10 passes, in addition to 10 contests in which he scored at least two touchdowns.
HIS BIGGEST GAMES
9/1/07 vs. Indiana State 3 catches for 153 yards and 2 touchdowns
10/20/07 vs. Penn State 14 catches for 142 yards and 2 touchdowns
10/28/06 vs. Michigan State 6 catches for 83 yards and 4 touchdowns
10/14/06 vs. Iowa 8 catches for 104 yards and 3 touchdowns
10/15/05 at Iowa 12 catches for 203 yards and 1 touchdown
WHY HE COULD BE A RED AND PEWTER PLAYER
Hardy’s size and leaping ability are sure to catch the eye of Bucs head coach Jon Gruden, who loves big wide receivers. Hardy is projected to be faster than current big Buccaneers wideouts Michael Clayton and Maurice Stovall and is expected to be a better leaper.
The rangy wideout was deadly in the red zone for the Hoosiers where he routinely won jump ball contests on fade routes and used his long arms and big frame to shield defenders away from the ball on slants. In fact, most of Hardy’s touchdowns came in the red zone.
Gruden loves to create mismatches on the perimeter and every time Hardy lines up against a 5-foot-10 cornerback he already has a nine-inch height advantage. Throw in the fact that he has long arms and a solid vertical jump and you can see why Gruden would be intrigued by Hardy's size.
Hardy has enough speed to stretch the field vertically on “go” routes and should win most one-on-one battles with NFL cornerbacks due to his size. He has the potential to be a Plaxico Burress-type receiver at the next level. Hardy is a big receiver who plays big.
While he isn’t a brute the way Michael Irvin was, Hardy is physical enough to create some separation at the line of scrimmage and coming out of his breaks. He also has the ability to break tackles and gain yards after the catch.
TOUGHEST TRANSITION IN TAMPA BAY
Hardy is a junior and may have some maturity issues. He was arrested for domestic battery for allegedly attacking his girlfriend in college during the 2006 offseason. The charges were dismissed in a pre-trial diversion program.
Hardy could have benefited from another year in college from a maturity standpoint, but he does have the tools to succeed in the NFL. He was used to being the focal point of the offense in college and it remains to be seen how he will handle receiving a lack of playing time during the early stages of his NFL career.
Despite having good speed and the ability to get deep into the secondary, Hardy lacks initial quickness and the ability to create separation just from running precise routes. He takes a while to build to top speed and is a long-strider. That may cause him problems to gain separation in the NFL, as it has for Clayton and Stovall.
SPECIAL TEAMS FACTOR
As a starting wide receiver for three years, Hardy did not play on special teams and it is unclear as to whether he would embrace a role on special teams as a rookie. Due to his lack of experience on special teams, he may not be a factor covering kicks and punts in his first season in the NFL.
Although he is physical on offense, his ability to tackle is in question. But because he is unlikely to start on offense as a rookie, Hardy will have to learn how to tackle and be a force on special teams.
Due to his size and lack of initial quickness, Hardy is not a candidate to return kicks or punts.
Hardy is a likely second-round pick, but his stock could go as high as the late first round with a 40-yard dash time under 4.5. However, that is the best-case scenario.
Hardy’s character concerns will have to be heavily investigated by the Buccaneers. His character, the fact that he is still refining his game, and if he has a 40-yard dash time in the 4.6 range in Indy or at his pro day, could even push Hardy down into the third round. The 2008 draft class has a number of talented receivers and that doesn’t help his cause, either.
Due to his basketball background, Hardy’s athleticism is quite extraordinary. He has rare size and that could be sought after by a number of teams on draft day. The Buccaneers’ best shot at him would be in the second round as he likely won’t be there near the end of the third round.
"I'm still a baby. I'm still so young at this receiver position," said Hardy, who turned 22 in December. "I learn so much each and every day. I have so much upside."
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