When the Falcons drafted Justin Hardy, they understood that patience would be key to his development. He hadn't worried much about a playbook in college; now, in the NFL, he's expected to understand Kyle Shanahan's scheme like the back of his hand.
It took some time for him to get to that point. Hardy sat out the first seven regular season games in 2015, gradually getting up to speed. But when the Falcons activated Hardy, it became clear why they wanted to invest a fourth-round pick in the East Carolina product: he was consistent, he recorded first downs on more than half his receptions and was an aggressive blocker.
No longer dealing with a steep learning curve, the 5-foot-10, 192-pounder looks ready to become an important part of Atlanta's offense.
"It took him a little bit (of) time to get going. He started to click about halfway through the year. He finished strong for us. He's come back better," Shanahan said. "He's come back in better shape than where he started off as a rookie, which allows him to accelerate early in OTAs and not wait until training camp.
"He's got as good of hands as anyone I've been around. He's very smart player. He's not the biggest guy but he's not scared of anything. I expect Hardy to help us out a lot this year."
OTAs only offer a small glimpse into a player's growth, but Hardy looked as sharp as ever during last week's practices. He flashed those hands Shanahan talked about during the one of the last on-field workouts, hauling in a difficult catch along the sidelines that impressed a lot of his teammates—including Julio Jones.
"Hardy, he's very teachable," Jones said. "He's going to make great plays for us this upcoming season. It's just all about maturity and the experience. He's a year into it, so now he's getting that experience under his belt."