Georgia Bulldogs wide receiver Mecole Hardman (4) catches a touchdown pass behind Massachusetts Minutemen cornerback Justin Lewis (28) during the first half at Sanford Stadium.

Falcons draft analysis: Team can find super returner in its backyard

The Falcons selected a wide receiver in the first round of the draft last season, but there is still a need on the roster.

The Falcons trio of Julio Jones, Mohamed Sanu and Calvin Ridley, with the continue development of Ridley, could be one of the top units in the league. 

Justin Hardy was re-signed, but the speedy Marvin Hall was allowed to leave in free agency. Hardy and Hall handled punt and kickoff returns last season and were steady, but not spectacular.

In the middle rounds of the draft, the Falcons can add a wide receiver with return ability, such as former Georgia wide receiver/returner Mecole Hardman. 

Hardman, who played in high school at Elbert County, played three seasons for the Bulldogs. He caught 60 passes for 961 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Hardman, who’s 5-foot-11 and 183 pounds, returned 39 punts for 592 yards and one touchdown. He returned 35 kickoffs for 875 yards.

He’s the No. 1 rated returner in the draft by bobmcginnfootball.com.  

“I am a do-it-all guy,” Hardman said. “I can go outside, I can do inside. My special teams value is high. You can get a lot out of me, so I bring a lot of value.” 

Hardman believes he can run the ball on jet sweeps in the NFL, too. 

“I can definitely get a jet sweep,” Hardman said. “However you want to use me. I can be a great gadget guy. I can do a lot of things and I think my skill-set is unique. I can do more things on offense than a typical receiver can do.”

He was recruited as a quarterback by Georgia Tech and Navy to run the option. He started his career at Georgia as a defensive back. 

» More: Norcross’ Slayton hopes to flash his speed in the NFL

Making the transition to wide receiver was tough.

“I had to show everybody I could transfer to a new position,” Hardman said.

The move was pretty fluid after Hardman better understood how defenses were trying to scheme for him.

“I really knew how to be a natural receiver, running routes on certain things,” Hardman said. “(I knew) how to break here and different releases.”

Despite his size, Hardman believes he play inside and outside in the NFL.

“There are a lot of guys in the league that are my size and are producing on the outside,” Hardman said. “You look at

Tyreek Hill for example. There are guys who can do it. (NFL teams) ask me what I feel comfortable with and they definitely say they can move me around and go from there.”

The Falcons’ record of drafting players from Georgia has been well-documented.

The last Bulldog taken in the draft was linebacker Akeem Dent back in 2011. Dent, who’s from Douglass High and currently the linebackers coach for the Houston Texans, went on to have a solid six-year NFL career.

In addition to Hardman, former Georgia receivers Riley Ridley and Terry Godwin also are in the draft.

“The nice part about some of the UGA guys is that we get to go over and see them,” Falcons coach Dan Quinn said. “Now, my connection with (Georgia coach) Kirby (Smart), I have a good feel for their team now.

“We’re spending more time together. We are disappointed we were not able to add some (Georgia players) last year. There are some good players coming out this year that would certainly make good additions for us.”

Hardman followed by South Carolina’s Deebo Samuel and Memphis running back Tony Pollard as the top returners in the draft.

Samuel returned only kickoffs for the Gamecocks. NFL teams believes he can also return punts.

He averaged 29 yards on 42 kickoff returns and took four back for touchdowns. 

Pollard returned 87 kickoffs for a 30.1 average and had seven touchdowns.

FALCONS DRAFT ANALYSIS 

Part 1: Wide receivers/returners -- Team can find super returner in its backyard. 

Part 2: Defensive tackles --  Team needs match up with talent defensive tackles 

WIDE RECEIVER DRAFT PROJECTIONS

First day (Round 1) – D.K. Metcalf (Mississippi) and Hakeem Butler (Iowa State).

Second day (2-3) – Marquise Brown (Oklahoma), N’Keal Harry (Arizona State), A.J. Brown (Mississippi), Deebo Samuel (South Carolina), Mecole Hardman (Georiga), Kelvin Harmon (N.C. State), Riley Ridley (Georgia) and Darius Slayton (Auburn).  

Third day (4-7) – Emmanuel Hall (Missouri), J.J. Arcega-Whiteside (Standford), Miles Boykin (Notre Dame), Gary Jennings (West Virginia), David Sills V (West Virginia), Greg Dortch (Wake Forest), Jonnie Dixon (Ohio State), Antony Ratliff-Williams (North Carolina), Hunter Renfrow (Clemson), Terry Godwin (Georgia), Antonio Wesley (Texas Tech), Preston Williams (Colorado State), Diontae Johnson (Toledo), Parris Campbell (Ohio State), Andy Isabella (Massachusetts), Miles Brown (Notre Dame) and Jalen Hurd (Baylor). 

Georgia prospects: Hardman, Ridley and Godwin. Penny Hart (Georgia State) and Justin Sumpter (Kennesaw State). 

SEC: Demarkus Lodge (Mississippi), Ryan Davis (Auburn)

ACC: Jakobi Meyers (N.C. State), Nyqwan Murray (Florida State), Jamal Custis (Syracuse), Jaylen Smith (Louisville). 

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