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51 days until kickoff: Kevin Hardy, the first great Jaguars linebacker

Tim Lester Steelers

With just 51 days until kickoff, let’s talk about the first great linebacker in a long line of great linebackers for the Jacksonville Jaguars — Kevin Hardy!

A Dick Butkus Award winner and Consensus All-American

Hardy was the No. 2 overall pick out of Illinois in the 1996 NFL Draft and while he may not have lived up to the superstar status that a second overall pick is supposed to, he was a high-level contributor and difference-maker for Jacksonville’s defense during his time with the franchise.

He made his presence immediately in his rookie season, earning a spot on the 1996 All-Rookie Team. He helped Jacksonville earn a playoff spot (and a couple of playoff wins that season), recording 86 total tackles, 5.5 sacks, two interceptions, and three forced fumbles.

Hardy, who was able to play either outside linebacker position, ranks sixth all-time in solo tackles for the Jaguars and also ranks fourth in sacks with 28.5 — tied with big John Henderson for third all-time in fumbles forced (8).

Selected to his first and only Pro Bowl in 1999, Hardy also earned first-team All-Pro honors that year. He led all AFC linebackers with 10.5 sacks that season, while also leading the 14-2 Jaguars in tackles.

Hardy played his first six seasons in the NFL in Jacksonville, appearing in 86 total games with 83 starts. He amassed 506 total tackles, 28.5 sacks, eight fumbles forced, and six fumbles recovered. After Jacksonville, he went on to play two years in Cincinnati before finishing out his career with a single season in Dallas.