Why Hardy is on the list
As a general rule, we feel compelled to champion any player who speaks openly of his quest for a 50-sack season. We don't imagine Hardy will actually pulverize Michael Strahan's phony sack record, but Hardy showed enough last season to tell us he can become an All-Pro in 2013.
There was a lot to like about Hardy's 2012 season. Lining up opposite another plus passrusher in Charles Johnson, Hardy set a career high with 11 sacks, including 23 QB pressures and two forced fumbles.
Hardy has all the physical tools, and his explosiveness off the line jumps out at you. Watch him make San Diego Chargers lineman Kevin Haslam look like a tackling dummy here before burying Philip Rivers.
Hardy also is versatile enough to slide inside and wreak havoc, as he did in obvious passing situations last year. That malleability was on display during Hardy's coming-out party, a three-sack first half against the Chicago Bears in Week 8.
Hardy shed 14 pounds from his frame in the offseason in an effort to increase his speed off the edge. Hardy getting faster is the last thing opposing tackles want to hear.
The tag on Hardy entering the 2012 season was that he was a fantastically talented player who struggled to find consistency in his game. This is a 300-pound defensive end who was athletic enough to be used as a gunner on the punt team, but he's also a bit of a character. If he were in a buddy cop comedy, he'd definitely be cast as the loose canon with nothing to lose.
Case in point: Three days before his three-sack half against the Bears in Week 8, he was pulled out of practice after coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott were unhappy with his effort.
It's a matter of maturity, and whether Hardy can use his strong emotions for good rather than evil. Well, relative evil.
There are plenty of reasons to expect Hardy to jump to the next level in 2013, and here's one more: Hardy is entering the final year of his contract. He said he's not motivated by the millions he could earn on the open market, but we don't imagine it hurts.
The Panthers' defensive line has the potential to be scary good. With Johnson on the other side, teams have to decide which sack artist gets the double-team. If defensive tackles Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short -- the team's top two picks in the 2013 draft -- pan out, the Panthers will be on to something.
Hardy may emerge as the promising line's biggest star. A jump into the 15-plus sack club is well within reach.
Follow Dan Hanzus on Twitter @DanHanzus.