Sleeper Spotlight: Why Penny Hart Could Make Seahawks Final Roster
Since the start of the league year in March, the Seahawks haven't necessarily made any splashy moves adding to their receiver corps. However, general manager John Schneider did sign former first-round pick Phillip Dorsett in free agency and used two late-round draft picks on Freddie Swain and Stephen Sullivan to bolster depth.
With those additions and the return of David Moore and John Ursua, it will be tough sledding for any other receivers on the depth chart to sneak onto Seattle's final 53-man roster. But if there's a player to keep an eye on as a possible dark horse candidate, Georgia State standout Penny Hart fits the bill.
Starring for the Panthers, Hart exploded onto the scene as a true freshman, hauling in 71 receptions for 1,109 yards and eight touchdowns while earning First-Team All-Sun Belt honors. Following a redshirt year due to injury, he returned with another 1,000-plus yard effort in 2017, once again scoring eight touchdowns and earning First-Team All-Sun Belt distinction.
Choosing to forgo his senior season after posting 669 receiving yards for a two-win team as a junior, Hart left Georgia State ranked first in school history in receiving touchdowns and second in both receptions and receiving yards. He received an invite to the 2019 Senior Bowl, where he impressed throughout the practice week against the nation's best talent.
Despite a strong week in Mobile, however, Hart didn't receive an NFL Scouting Combine invite and hurt his stock with subpar testing at Georgia State's pro day. He ran a pedestrian 4.63-second 40-yard dash and 7.64-second 3-cone drill, exhibiting below-average athletic metrics for his position that didn't match up with his game tape.
The unexpected poor performance, along with Hart's diminutive 5-foot-8, 180-pound frame and small 9 1/8-inch hands, ultimately led to the play maker going undrafted and signing with the Colts as a priority free agent.
Joining an Indianapolis squad seeking receiver depth, a hamstring injury suffered during the first week of training camp prevented Hart from suiting up until the team's preseason finale against Cincinnati. Showing his rust, he dropped two punts as a returner, failing to take advantage of his lone opportunity.
After being waived with an injury designation on August 31, Hart cleared waivers and reverted to injured reserve, eventually reaching a settlement with the Colts to become an unrestricted free agent. Two months later, he signed with the Seahawks practice squad following a workout and was signed to a future/reserve contract on January 14.
Coming off a disappointing rookie season, Hart may seem like a long shot to stick in Seattle, especially considering the depth around him. But he offers a number of traits that could give him a fighting chance at making the team.
For one, despite his struggles fielding punts last preseason, Hart proved himself to be a dynamic weapon on special teams at the college level. As a junior, he returned nine punts for 158 yards and a touchdown while also returning 15 kickoffs for 299 yards.
Seattle has been trying to find a capable replacement for Tyler Lockett in the return game for the past couple of seasons to no avail. When camp opens sometime next month, Hart should be in the mix battling against Swain, Travis Homer, DeeJay Dallas, and a host of other players competing for return duties.
While Hart's lack of height and small catch radius can hurt him, he's a reliable target working both from the slot and the outside. He compensates for his lack of elite top speed with well-developed route running skills, using his quickness to help create separation against coverage.
Much to the delight of Seattle's coaching staff, Hart also checks off the box as a hard-nosed grinder who plays with a chip on his shoulder and always competes. Though undersized, he won't back down as a blocker on the outside and fights for extra yardage after the catch.
Weighing Hart's chances of making a run at a roster spot, health will be the biggest key. Along with missing most of his second season at Georgia State with a broken foot, he's had multiple hamstring injuries, including the one that cost him most of training camp and the preseason last year in Indianapolis.
But if Hart stays healthy, he plays faster on the field than his testing numbers suggest and offers versatility as a play maker who can create both as a receiver and return specialist. Due to his time with the Seahawks in 2019, he should have an advantage over incoming rookies, which gives him a legitimate chance to surprise in August.