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Undrafted Underdog: Can Penny Hart be the next Andrew Hawkins?

Down at this year’s Senior Bowl, diminutive Georgia State wide receiver Penny Hart shined. Showing off quick feet, polished technique, and explosive tendencies, the pint-sized prospect stood tall around his peers, proving his worth on the big stage.

When I saw Hart dominating live, all I could think about was how he reminded me of former Cleveland Brown and Cincinnati Bengal Andrew Hawkins. It turns out, I was more on point with that comparison than I realized. Responding to a tweet of mine, Hawkins’ claimed he’d been working with Hart throughout the pre-draft process. It didn’t come as much of a surprise given the strong footwork littered through the Georgia State WR’s tape, but it put one question in my head - can Penny Hart become the next Andrew Hawkins?

Let’s take a quick look and try and answer that question.

Fire Feet

When you’re as small as both Hart and Hawkins, you better be agile. Thankfully in both cases - they are.

Quick and crisp, Hart requires minimal steps to get open, and his lack of false steps is part of what makes him so intriguing. Sure he loves to hesitate, but the Colt WR did so in an efficient manner down in Mobile, creating separation at a much faster rate than other “quick” receivers like Andy Isabella and Hunter Renfrow.

Meanwhile, there’s absolutely zero doubting Hawkins’ foot skills. He’s one of the best to ever do it, and his ladder work is textbook. I’ll let you appreciate his greatness with a few clips below.

Small Stature

The agility sounds great on the surface, but it’s honestly the bare minimum of what Hart will need to succeed. Just 5-foot 8 and a generous 180 pounds, Hart’s stature prevents him from producing in many areas and limits him to a slot-only role at the next level. With short arms and sub-9-inch hands, it also plagues him in other areas such as his catch radius and ball skills. He fights more passes than you’d like, and his physical limitations are the main reason why.

Unlike a D.K. Metcalf or N’Keal Harry, you can’t just throw the ball up to a covered Hart. To make a play he needs to be wide open, and anything less doesn’t work. It stacks the odds against him in a major way, but Hawkins faced similar battles on his route to the NFL.

This is a little excerpt from Hawkins’ Player’s Tribune article - highlighting some of incredible lengths he had to go through for teams to take him seriously.

“It was Thanksgiving weekend 2007, the day after I played my final college game at Toledo. I’d been debating whether to pursue a pro football career. I knew it was a long shot. A small guy from a small school with small stats — nobody expected me to make it at the next level. I went to the gym to work out and stepped on the scale: 161 pounds.

Before my Pro Day, I made a pit-stop at Michael’s — you know, the craft store — to pick up some clay. I bought clay that matched my skin tone, molded it to the heels of my feet and taped my feet up past the ankle like I would for a game. When it came time to measure me, it gave me about another inch and a half. Then, when I weighed in, I dropped a two-and-a-half pound weight in each of my pockets, which gave me an extra five pounds.

I could have never pulled those tricks at the combine. They’d strip me down to just underwear before measurements. But this was Pro Day, so it was way more relaxed. When all was said and done, I went on paper as 5’8’’ and 182 pounds. A huge step up from the 5’6’’, 161-pound guy that decided just a few months earlier to take a shot at the NFL.

Passed Over

Mainly because of their physical shortcomings, both Hawkins and Hart ended up going undrafted. Hart is currently competing for a roster spot on a deep Indianapolis Colts squad, while Hawkins’ wasn’t even lucky enough to get a camp invite in his initial year. He ultimately had to go dominate the Canadian Football League (CFL) for a few seasons before the NFL would even give him a look. Now, he’s paved the road for others like Hart to get quicker chances, but the reality is that WR’s with his size are still being shunned.

Hart may have to go and develop his skills somewhere like the CFL before finally making a roster - and unless he wows this pre-season, will likely be cut from Indianapolis. Of course, I could - and hope - I eat these words. Hart is tremendously talented and I graded him extremely highly. Going from UDFA to NFL contributor is easier at the WR position than any other too, with Doug Baldwin, Adam Thielen, Wes Welker, and Hawkins being some prime examples. But I just wouldn’t hold my breath.

Bottom Line

In conclusion, Hart is a fun player who shares a lot of similarities with Hawkins. I thought it was a travesty he wasn’t selected in the draft, though I completely understand the reasoning behind it. The odds of success just aren’t high - but that won’t stop me from rooting for the undrafted underdog to become a big-time success.