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CBS Sports: Justin Hardy Could Be 'Secret Weapon'

Rookies Tevin Coleman and Justin Hardy donned their Falcons uniforms for the first time last week at the Rookie Premiere and let loose for a photo shoot

As the NFL continues its shift back to pass-happy league, more and more wide receivers are flourishing as rookies. We saw it last year, as premier talents like Odell Beckham, Mike Evans and Jarvis Landry, along with depth WRs such as Donte Moncrief, Davante Adams and Martavis Bryant made appreciable impacts.

Odds are the 2015 class won't be as illustrious — it'd have to be historically good to reach such heights — but there are still a number of intriguing prospects who can step in right away. One plays here in Atlanta.

Drafted in the fourth round, Justin Hardy has garnered a lot of praise for his work at East Carolina University, where he broke the FBS record for career receptions. With big hands, sharp route-running and stout blocking skills, he has the makeup needed to immediately jump in the slot. CBS Sports college football writer Brian Jones agrees.

"Other than (Julio) Jones, the Falcons need a spark on offense to get them over the hump. Hardy has all the tools to be that guy, and the good thing about Hardy is, opposing teams know little about what he can do," Jones said. "But when the seasons begins in two months, the entire NFL will know how much of a weapon Hardy is, which could lead to the Falcons getting back to where they were in 2012."

The Falcons had little trouble passing the ball in 2014 — they finished second and fifth in catches and receiving yards, respectively — but developing young wide receivers now is still extremely crucial. Roddy White is on the back nine of his career and will have to be replaced at some point, and Harry Douglas' departure has left a sizeable hole in the depth chart.

For the Falcons to remain consistently dangerous through the air, Hardy, among others, will need to become reliable targets. That would have a powerful effect — both in the short- and long-term.

"Jones and White will get the attention of opposing defenses," Jones said. " But if Hardy is able to get better during training camp and preseason, Ryan will go to him consistently, and that will make the defenses think twice about focusing on the two primary receivers."

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