The New Orleans Saints cashed in on their 2017 draft picks and made a mark in free agency. Occasionally, teams will sign a player after roster shaving releases or within the first couple of weeks of the season. Justin Hardee falls under the latter designation; two weeks in, when he played his first game in black and gold. For the next 17 weeks (including bye week and playoffs), Hardee was an integral part of the youth movement in New Orleans.
The birth of the ‘Boonk Gang’ mentality was just what the doctor order, as a band of 1st and 2nd year defenders began to rally around each other. Though firmly placed on gunner duty on special teams, Hardee played with intensity and fire, often forcing return men to wave for a fair catch because the speedy cornerback was in their face so quickly.
In between kick-coverage duties, Hardee was found hamming it for the cameras along with Marshon Lattimore, Ken Crawley, P.J. Williams, and Cam Jordan. The photo-op became a game day staple as defensive success went from a surprise to an expectation.
Positivity is infectious. The success of the defense began to carry over to the special teams unit, and Hardee was at the forefront. Versus the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, Hardee blocked a punt, caught the live football on a hop, and raced to the end zone for the game’s first touchdown. The slaughter was on and one could reason that Hardee got the party started.
Statistics do not always tell the whole story of the effort and hard work that a player has applied to his craft. This is at its truest in the case of Hardee, as he totaled nine tackles during the regular season and one in the post season. What doesn’t show up on the stat sheet are the numerous times Hardee forced a returner to cut back into coverage help and force a short return.
Hardee’s appearances in 14 games after being an undrafted free agent, who was cut by the Houston Texans, is a testament to the quality of player the Saints have in him. The fact that he has shown value after converting from college wide receiver to NFL cornerback should not be overlooked.
Justin Hardee appears to be a part of the new wave of high energy talent in New Orleans, but at a minimum, he was key member of the special teams success in 2017!