Mecole Hardman faces a steep learning curve as an incoming rookie wideout in Andy Reid‘s offense, but the Chiefs have pretty high hopes for him out of the gate.
Mecole Hardman admits there’s a serious learning curve at this point in his professional life.
The Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver was the team’s top overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, a second-round selection out of the University of Georgia at No. 56 overall for which general manager Brett Veach traded up five spots to secure. Safety Juan Thornhill would come a few spots later at No. 63.
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The Chiefs have been very intentional in their approach with Hardman, which means the learning curve is purposeful. The coaches have admittedly saddled him with a heavy load mentally to learn the game that comes so quickly to him on the field.
“It’s coming to me. It’s still fast though,” said Hardman from Thursday’s practice. “Just coming from college and the new material, new play calling, new concepts—it’s hard at first, but the more you do it, the more repetition you get, the easier it comes.”
There’s good reasons for the Chiefs pressing Hardman like they are. Hardman was the prize possession for Veach early on in the draft for two primary reasons. First and foremost on the minds of fans and analysts, the Kansas City Chiefs catapulted from great to historically great last season under new starter Patrick Mahomes. The cannon of an arm on Mahomes allows the team to stretch the field vertically due to the league-leading speed of wide receiver Tyreek Hill. Given the investigations into Tyreek Hill’s familial situation and home life this offseason, questions have arose about Hill’s availability in 2019, at least for a stretch of time.
Hardman, then, is an excellent substitute for Hill given his ability to take the top off of a defense vertically as well as his electric return abilities on special teams. The Chiefs’ offense is predicated on the mismatches created by Andy Reid’s clever play design, and Hardman is another athletic marvel for whom such meticulous plans will pay off.
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On the flip side, Hardman is also a way to keep from coasting offensively. Just when defenses think they’ve adjusted or at least got some sort of ideas on how they might stop an offense with Hill, tight end Travis Kelce, and wide receiver Sammy Watkins, now the Chiefs have dual vertical threats. It’s not enough just to have one guy who can keep pace with Hill’s incredible top-end speed and agility; now there are two top-shelf talents who will eventually learn in tandem how best to threaten defenders in deep coverage.
When and if the Chiefs are able to get all of their players on the field, it should be a nightmare for opposing coordinators. The challenge for the coaching staff now is getting Hardman to learn these schemes and plays as quickly as possible. Hardman gave one example of the coaching demands when asked about Dave Toub.
“He’s a perfectionist,” said Hardman of the Chiefs special teams coach. “I’m a perfectionist as well. I want to be right and do everything right. I think his expectation for me is high and that’s what I expect out of any coach that’s coaching me. The expectations are to be above the rules, so he’s a hard coach but he’s one who’s going to teach you and make sure you get better as the days go on.”
Hardman admits the learning curve isn’t just mental with the playbook; it’s also something he faces on the field as he learns the style and ability of Mahomes under center.
“I’m still learning from him—learning how he throws balls, learning where he wants me to be and where I need to be,” Hardman said. “I’d say the chemistry is growing and I’m getting comfortable every day with running my routes. Eventually, we’ll get it down and we’ll get it where we need to be … He’s got a great arm. He’s a good quarterback. Just being on the same field and talking with him and working with him, it’s impressive.
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Hardman had only 35 catches last year for the Georgia Bulldogs, but seven of those catches went for touchdowns. Hardman also had 543 receiving yards in 2018.