2018 Saints player profile: Justin Hardee
By Dayton Brown
You know him for his blocked punt against the Falcons. But, what does Justin Hardee fully bring to the table for New Orleans?
The New Orleans Saints secondary is filled with undrafted players. Starting cornerback Ken Crawley, cornerback Arthur Maulet, safety Chris Banjo, and today’s featured player: cornerback Justin Hardee. The extra motivation via not being called on draft night has played into the major success and turnaround of this Saints secondary.
For Hardee, the chip on his shoulder has grown since his high school career. He was a three-star prospect out of Ohio, and chose to play football for the Illinois Fighting Illini. Unfortunately, in 2013, Hardee’s mother passed away. It was during his redshirt sophomore year, and Hardee stepped his game up afterwards.
He was a wide receiver throughout all of high school and college. Hardee racked up 841 yards and one touchdown during his career at Illinois. After four seasons (three full) in college, Hardee went undrafted in 2017. Less than four months later, after switching over to defensive back in Houston, Hardee was part of the last round of cuts.
Five days after being waived, Hardee found a new home. Just in time for the season, he was signed to the New Orleans Saints on September 7, 2017. He was a practice squad member for a little over two weeks before being called up to the active roster. His season was quiet, until the blocked punt heard ‘round New Orleans.
On November 5, 2017, in a Week 9 division rivalry matchup against the Buccaneers, Hardee blocked a Bryan Anger punt. He caught the ball after a high bounce without losing stride, and waltzed into the end zone.
Hardee lead one of the most impressive special teams performances of the season for the Saints. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week, in fact. It was paired with a great Saints defensive outing, giving them a 30-10 win. The blocked punt is Hardee’s first and only NFL touchdown. In his first and only NFL season, Hardee compiled 9 tackles and the touchdown off the block.
Hardee in 2018
Hardee doesn’t only fit the secondary standard when it comes to not being drafted. He also has youth in common with the majority of the group. Starting cornerbacks Marshon Lattimore and Ken Crawley are entering their second and third years, respectively. Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams, both starting safeties, are entering their third and second years in the NFL, respectively. The only true veteran in the corps is newly-signed Kurt Coleman.
He stands at 6-foot-1, so Hardee has the size to make a lot of noise on special teams. If he impresses in training camp, he could even earn rotation in the cornerback slot. He will be competing with guys like De’Vante Harris and Arthur Maulet. Hardee understands routes and offenses very well, as he spent so much time playing receiver. Expect to hear his name called often during the preseason, and every so often during the regular year.
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Hardee credits Bill Cubit, former offensive coordinator at Illinois, for helping him get through the death of his mother. That, along with Hardee’s dedication to the Omega Psi Phi fraternity, are documented in this piece by Roy Anderson for the site last year. His first and only college touchdown came late against Western Kentucky in September of 2014. Hardee hauled in a 62-yard score to give the Illini a win.