ECU coach calls receiver 'definite first-round pick'

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East Carolina wide receiver Justin Hardy gave some thought to entering the 2014 NFL Draft as an underclassman, but ultimately decided to return for his senior season.

That was fabulous news for the ECU coaching staff, to be sure, but if wide receivers coach Donnie Kirkpatrick is correct, it will end up being a fabulous decision for Hardy, as well. Kirkpatrick has described Hardy as a "definite first-round pick," according to insideecusports.com.

The former walk-on is also the most prolific wide receiver in East Carolina history. Hardy (6-0, 190 pounds) caught 114 passes last year for 1,284 yards and eight touchdowns. Hardy has 266 career receptions, putting him within relatively easy reach of the NCAA career receptions record. He has averaged 101 receptions over the past two seasons, and he needs 84 to own the mark.

What's more, offensive coordinator Lincoln Riley said Hardy has some of the same qualities as San Francisco 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree -- a former first-round pick, himself -- whom Riley coached at Texas Tech.

It can be difficult to get noticed at a school like ECU, where the competition isn't on a level with the Power Five conferences, but Hardy's production won't be easy to ignore. He's led the team in receiving since he was a freshman, and as a sophomore in 2012, he caught 88 passes for 1,105 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Hardy's best opportunity to catch the eye of NFL scouts will likely come on Sept. 13, when the Pirates visit Virginia Tech. The Hokies feature one of the top cornerbacks in the college game in sophomore Kendall Fuller. If Hardy draws Fuller in man coverage and lights up the All-ACC cornerback, don't be surprised if scouting buzz on Hardy begins to get louder.

Follow Chase Goodbread on Twitter *@ChaseGoodbread.*

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