Penny Hart’s Path To The Draft

Penny Hart’s Path To The Draft
Reading Time: 6 minutes.

The Path to the NFL Draft is truly underway. We have already seen January’s College All Star games, and if you listened to our latest podcast you will have heard our take on those games.

The Scouting Combine begins on the 1st March. That is followed by the individual college Pro Days. These two events give players one last opportunity to shine in front of NFL teams before Roger Goodell puts the Arizona Cardinals on the clock in Nashville on April 25th.

In a series of articles on the run up to the NFL Draft, I will be looking at some players you should be getting to know now before they become familiar faces in the NFL.

Introducing, Penny Hart…

First up is Georgia State Panthers Wide Receiver, Penny Hart.

I had the opportunity this week to chat with Penny about his time at Georgia State, the evolution of the wide receiver position, and his thoughts on the draft process.

The first thing to know about Hart from a football perspective is the guy can flat out produce. He isn’t just dynamic at wide receiver, having also taken snaps at running back and quarterback at high school. He is super fast, and has good hands to go with it. For a smaller guy he can go up and make catches against bigger defenders. He can make plays on special teams too, returning punts and kick offs in college. That versatility is a valuable commodity in modern football.

In his time at Georgia State, Hart twice lead the Sun Belt Conference in receiving yards. Both seasons saw him break one thousand yards receiving and snag eight touchdowns. He is one of only two players from Georgia State who have received first team All Sun-Belt honours twice. He holds the single game receiving yards record for Georgia State. His 191 yards in a 2017 win over Georgia Southern beat his own record of 190 yards.

2015 Sun Belt Freshman of the Year…

Hart was named Sun Belt Conference Freshman of the year in 2015 and he looks back fondly when I ask him about the high and lows of his time there:

“The highs for me were definitely my freshman year having such an amazing year with the people that I did, and being part of history going to our first bowl game in school history. Unfortunately we didn’t win but it was able to start something off to be really special”

It would be the first of two Cure Bowl games for Hart and Georgia State. The second one would prove to be more successful as the Panthers beat Western Kentucky 27-17. Hart had injured his foot the previous week and I wondered what his opinion was on the growing trend for players to skip Bowl games:

“I think everyone is subject to their own opinion and what they want to do as they choose to do with their future. Some people feel that it’s best to sit out and prepare themselves for future endeavours and everything like that. Some people they’re gonna go out there and be with their team for the last time….The week before (the 2017 Cure Bowl) I had messed up my ankle a little bit but I wanted to be out there. I wanted to be a part of history and say that I could put that uniform on and played and did whatever I had to do to help my team win, whether it’s a lot or a little….that’s something I’ll always cherish”.

Turning Adversity in to Positivity…

It would be the last real success of Hart’s college career. Despite personally having two 100 yard games, Georgia State struggled in 2018 and he reflected on that:

“Obviously ending the way it did…leaving this past season and not having the season that we wanted was definitely the low for me”.

It struck me that that was the low point and not the 2016 season that was lost to a broken foot:

“Honestly it was tough, but I was able to put myself in a space to where I was able to see a lot of different things and aspects of the game from being hurt. Learning how to lead better. Learning how to be more patient and at the end of the day being able to appreciate the game more just because of the fact that you’re not promised the next play…at any given point it could be over so I always cherish that now…I definitely appreciate the game now and it helped me be able to see some different things from an outside perspective as far as things are run on the field, how to lead, and how to practice and how to get better. It definitely helped me more than I allowed it to effect me in a negative way”.

Size Doesn’t Matter…

His appreciation of the game is evident when we discuss his football inspiration growing up in Roswell, Georgia. It’s also evident when I ask him about the evolution of the wide receiver position in the NFL. At 5’8″ he would be one of the smallest receivers in the league but Hart can see the positive side:

“I remember seeing Andrew Hawkins being a smaller receiver. I was like, man! I’ve never seen somebody who was so determined and so skilled and everything and even playing receiver being a smaller guy like that, I’ve never seen anyone who could do that and it really inspired me growing up and to this day I look up to him and continue to grind…I think it’s becoming a little bit more of a trend [to have smaller receivers]”

He goes on to explain to me what that entails from a tactical perspective:

“There’s a lot of bigger guys out there on the defensive side especially on the perimeter. They like lengthier corners who can run up and down the field but might not be quicker laterally. So being a smaller receiver and going up against those guys, most of the time they can’t snap down like I snap down on my routes to be able to stay with me and things like that…a lot of the time that’s being exposed at the professional level especially in the slot but also outside with guys like Tyreek Hill…it’s definitely becoming more of a trend and helping me out in this process”.

Senior Bowl Week…

The latest stage in the “process” for Hart was the Senior Bowl and he had an impressive week of practice and in the game itself despite a late call up. I asked him what the week is like for a player:

“It was an amazing experience. For me, it was finding my way through not having a lot of time. There’s a lot of interviews going on, having to learn the teams playbook, a lot of different factors…you are put in a lot of situations to see how you perform and the best always perform so I always kept that in the back of my head…I just wanted to go out there, show what I could do, and just have fun”

The Senior Bowl also gives players the opportunity to work with NFL head coaches. Penny got to work with Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden and gave me his thoughts on that:

It was amazing to be around him [Gruden], because so many different people look up to him as a coach…just learning from him and being in meetings with him, it was an amazing experience”.

Scouting Combine Snub…

The next opportunity that Hart will have to showcase himself is Georgia State’s Pro Day on March 15th. When the list of NFL Scouting Combine invitees came out, Penny Hart was a shocking omission from it. As always, such things factor in to media opinion, draft analysis and mock drafts. It’s a particularly busy time for speculation and I wondered if it was something that players pay any attention to?

“Honestly, I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t…some people may take it to magnitudes where it might make their whole day get ruined. I let it be what it is…I prayed and I asked God to allow me to have an opportunity to play. That’s what I asked for, that’s want I want and that’s what I’m going after, and I know I’ll have that opportunity”.

Do players have a sense of where that opportunity will come before the draft gets underway? Do they know which teams are interested in them?

“Usually through calls that happen or certain interviews…at the end of the day one team falls in love with you, that’s all it takes. I’ve been in touch with a lot of different teams”.

Whichever team selects Hart they’ll be getting a talent on the field, but also a leader off of it. They’ll be getting a player who wants to have fun playing the game whilst understanding the nature of the league.

Putting The Fun in to Football…

“I will be excited to be anywhere I can go…When that ball is snapped and I have that helmet on, it’s about feeling how I did when I was five years old. Just running around playing football. At the end of the day that’s what it’s all about”.

It was refreshing to hear a footballer talking about having fun playing the game. That fun will extend to NFL Draft weekend. Don’t expect to find the Hart family sat anxiously waiting for his future to call:

“My Uncle is a DJ, he’s gonna come to the house. All my grandparents, brothers and sisters will be there. I don’t even know if I’ll turn on the TV to watch the draft! I’ve sat in that seat for five hours with my brother Robert Davis when he got drafted, it was a stressful process and I don’t think I necessarily want that to happen…I just want to be loose and have fun and enjoy the time with my family”.

We end the interview chatting about the plans for the party and what classes as “good food” in Georgia.

Midway through, Hart had recounted the tale of the first time he met Jon Gruden:

“When I first walked in to the team meeting, I was the first one in there and he was like “Penny Hart, how you doing?” and I was like, what? HE knows ME?!! Jon Gruden?!!”

Yes, Penny Hart, Jon Gruden knows you. I suspect a lot more people are about to as well.

Photo Credit: 247Sports.

Thanks go to Penny Hart. Also, thanks to Rebecca Otto and Alexis Ramos at Wasserman Football who helped make this interview possible.

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