The Chicago Bears clarified some things when they decided to trade Anthony Miller. He was sent to the Houston Texans, allowing the team to secure a 5th round pick in the 2022 draft. It was an inauspicious end for the former 2nd round pick. As to the plans with him gone? Head coach Matt Nagy seems to already have an idea. Allen Robinson is expected to play much more in the slot this season. That will allow Darnell Mooney, Marquise Goodwin, and Damiere Byrd to utilize their considerable speed on the outside.
However, it does leave a vacancy at the receiver position. One the Bears likely wanted to fill. They finally did so 24 hours after the trade went down. They signed 29-year old Justin Hardy, formerly of the Atlanta Falcons. A 4th round pick in 2015, Hardy was often the 4th receiving option for that team, getting around 25-35 targets each year. Part of the problem was always being trapped on a deep depth chart.
Now he returns after having not played in 2020.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) July 27, 2021
At first glance, there isn’t much to get excited about with Hardy. He’s only 5’10, so not the biggest receiver on the field. He also isn’t overly fast. So what makes him such a draw for the Bears? Two aspects help him stand out. Hardy has long arms and good hands, making him a considerable threat on 3rd down. On top of that, he has a proven reputation as a blocker in the run game. Something that goes back to his days at East Carolina.
This is significant for the Bears because right now Javon Wims is the primary depth receiver who checks that particular box. Given how frustrating he was last season, the team might be looking for alternatives who can fill his role. Hardy certainly does that.
Hardy must work fast to crack Chicago Bears roster
He has a lot of things going against him. The fact he hasn’t played in over a year. That is the first thing. Learning the Bears’ complicated playbook takes time and he’s arriving just as training camp is set to begin. Time is a luxury he doesn’t have. This means he has one month to learn the scheme, connect with the quarterbacks, and make enough plays to overtake other more entrenched names on the roster.
It’s a safe bet Hardy isn’t going to do this with his receiving prowess. Not without a ton of luck. His best hope is to showcase his run blocking prowess and also trying to find a niche on special teams. Players deep on the depth chart often find that is the only way they’re truly going to get noticed. The Chicago Bears already have several spots likely locked up.
Robinson is obvious.
Following him are Mooney, Byrd, and probably Goodwin too. That means Hardy will be battling with Wims, Riley Ridley, and several others for a sixth and final spot. There is a chance he could do enough to make the practice squad. The NFL is maintaining its rules from 2020 in that regard, meaning veterans of any age will be allowed on it. Will he make something of this chance or fade back into the background. We shall see.