Taysom Hill gets a lot of attention for the New Orleans Saints for the dynamic versatility he brings to the team, both on offense and special teams, but he’s not the only such player the Saints have on their roster.
Justin Hardee is a cornerback by title, but playing behind former first round picks Marshon Lattimore and Eli Apple means it’s hard to see the field at Hardee’s primary position. Instead, he has to do what he can to make an impact on special teams when his number is called, much like Taysom.
Hardee is a special teams ace that continues to impress and see the field more and more, moving from just a contributor on special teams to a capable backup on the defensive side of the ball. On defense, Hardee was added two tackles for loss, two passes defended, plus his first career interception. He also caught a pass for ten yards.
Justin Hardee - At a Glance
- Approximate Value: 1 (tied for best in career)
- Defensive Grade: 49.5
- Coverage Grade: 52.6
- Total Snaps: 77 snaps on defense and 273 on special teams
Hardee is a special teams gunner, and when he’s asked to make a play in punt or kick coverage, he’s not going to get beat. Look at how he recovers and sticks with the play on this punt coverage against the Dallas Cowboys:
Any opportunity I get on punt I take advantage of ! No matter the situation I’m hungry! #ProBowlVote Justin Hardee #ProBowlVote #JustinHardee#ProBowlVote @jhardee_19 pic.twitter.com/ZdS7ptr1IK— Justin Hardee Sr. (@jhardee_19) November 30, 2018
And because other teams know Hardee gets down the field to make a tackle, that’s why he’s able to do something like this, catching a pass on a fake punt for the Saints first first down of the game against the New York Giants:
The fake punt is simple. When you have a quarterback as your personal punt protector you can do a lot of things. Giants cornerback is in press but he obviously thinks Justin Hardee is gonna run down the field. Not prepared to cover an actual route. pic.twitter.com/5oCRzmNoNU— Seth Galina (@SethGalina) October 4, 2018
But it’s not just special teams where Hardee was able to contribute. When Marshon Lattimore was forced to leave the Monday Night showdown against the Washington Redskins due to a concussion, Hardee stepped up and recorded his first career interception against Alex Smith. In fact, he was just a few yards away from taking it all the way to the house.
Justin Hardee makes his first career interception on a HUGE 4th down play! #WASvsNO pic.twitter.com/JAFLPqAk7g— New Orleans Saints (@Saints) October 9, 2018
After leading the team in special teams tackles the past two years, it’s no surprise then that the Saints made it a point to extend Hardee through the 2019 season as one of their first moves this offseason.
Congrats, Justin. You deserve it.
You also deserved to be in the Pro Bowl, but that’s a conversation for another day.