During his first stop in the NFL in New Orleans, he was listed as a wide receiver who caught a single pass over four seasons. In his most recent stop with the Jets, he is listed as a cornerback who has yet to defend against a single pass.
Justin Hardee is a rarity in today’s NFL — a specialist with an advanced degree in special teams. That’s what he does. That’s all he does. And he does it well.
“From my perspective, he has one kickoff, he makes one tackle,” said Brant Boyer, the Jets’ special teams coordinator. “He has one punt, he’s in front or standing in front of the returner to force a fair catch. So for me, a guy like that I think he’s top five in this league, I do. I think he’s a Pro Bowler, he does a really good job for us. He takes a leadership role in the room, so he has done a heck of a job and done everything we asked him to do.”
Hardee came to the Jets in free agency last season and took 368 snaps (84%), all on special teams in 16 games. That number eclipsed his previous career high of 363 snaps taken with the Saints in 2019.
“I remember my first year, and it’s funny, because that is literally my goal to set the tone,” Hardee said. “I did not even mean to say it out loud, but that’s something I’ve just been telling myself, to set the tone. Because, I am the leader of this special-team group and I take pride in it and I’m embracing it. I love it. I have to lead by example.”
Even though roster turnover tends to be a given in today’s NFL, Boyer and Hardee know that when it comes to special teams, the churn is usually off the charts. But coaches also acknowledge that when it comes time to cobble together a 53-man roster, a player’s ability to play, and play well on special teams could be the difference between making the team or not making the team.
“That is unfortunate that it is how the NFL goes,” Hardee said. “We never get the same team again, it’s kind of impossible. But you just got to kind of ride out with the guys you have here. Being able to bring…