Chiefs threw playbook at rookie Mecole Hardman, K.C.'s insurance policy for Tyreek Hill

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The speedy, spent rookie wearing No. 17 walked off the field near the end of practice, hands on his hips, and squatted to catch his breath.

This was Monday, the third and final day of the Kansas City Chiefs’ rookie minicamp, and after sprinting down the field as a scout-team gunner, Mecole Hardman was tired. He had spent the better part of the past three days lining up anywhere and everywhere. Slot receiver. Outside receiver. Punt return. Punt team. You name it, Hardman played it.

With the uncertainty surrounding Chiefs All-Pro Tyreek Hill, the team has thrown the playbook at Hardman to see what sticks. Comparisons to Hill — due to their similar size and speed — be darned.

“I feel like I’m myself, you know?” Hardman said, when asked how he compares to Hill. “I think I’m Mecole Hardman. I think I can do the things I want to do [on the field].”

Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman prepares to catch a football during Georgia Pro Day, Wednesday, March 20, 2019, in Athens, Ga. (AP Photo/John Amis)
Mecole Hardman, pictured in March at his pro day at Georgia, got quite a workout at Chiefs rookie minicamp. (AP)

Hardman showed flashes of doing just that during the three-day minicamp. With the ball in his hands, he was dynamic; he regularly ran past people after the catch and juked men with ease. On deep balls, he showed dynamism and ball-tracking ability, and on punt returns, he shook off a few early muffs and proved to be difficult to snare.

These are all traits that led the Chiefs to take Hardman in the second round of the draft over Mississippi’s D.K. Metcalf, a body-beautiful vertical threat who was still available at pick No. 56, and Ohio State’s Parris Campbell, another speedy jack-of-all-trades. These skills could allow Hardman to take meaningful snaps at Hill’s “Z” receiver position, the spotlight wideout spot in Andy Reid’s offense.

In fairness, that’s probably where the comparisons between the two should end. While they’re both listed at 5-foot-10 and Hardman is listed as two pounds heavier, Hardman seems like the longer player, someone who projects more like a DeSean Jackson or Tyler Lockett at receiver than Hill, whose combination of acceleration and speed is peerless.

What’s more, while Hill’s ability to create separation and win contested balls on all routes makes him unique, Hardman — who ran a limited route tree in college — is still getting a feel for doing so.

“He has juice and he’s a good player — you can’t grow 4.33 [speed] on trees,” one scout told Yahoo Sports. “But route-running and all that, he’s a work in progress. He ain’t Tyreek.”

This showed over the weekend when Reid called a series of dagger routes, which take shape largely about 20 yards downfield, requiring receivers to have a feel for running.

“The first one he ran was brutal — I mean brutal,” Reid said with a laugh.

Hardman proved to be a quick study, as general manager Brett Veach insisted would be the case shortly after he drafted him.

“Then he comes back and you could see in the second and third one every time he did it he got better,” Reid said. “I would tell you that with most of his routes that he ran — that’s what I’m looking for.”

This wouldn’t surprise anyone who scouted Hardman at Georgia where, after starting his career with the Bulldogs as a cornerback, he spent his final two seasons at receiver. As a junior in 2018, he mainly played the slot and logged 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns on a steady diet of deep balls.

“They were a run-first offense — they were more of a pro style-type deal,” the scout told Yahoo Sports. “Plus, he’s only played the position a few years.”

Georgia’s pro-style attack prepared Hardman for one crucial aspect of Reid’s offense, which is the ability to make mid-play adjustments. Reid’s receivers must be able to change their assignments depending on the defensive coverage, and mistakes — which can lead to interceptions — are not tolerated.

“We had those [sight adjustments], for sure,” Hardman told Yahoo Sports. “Corner blitzes and nickel blitzes, you [become the] hot [receiver]. I’m used to doing a lot of that.”

Hardman, with a chuckle, also conceded he’ll be doing a little more of that in Kansas City, which will require some time to master.

In the meantime, regardless of what happens with Hill, the Chiefs have every intention of being patient, though the baptism of fire that began for Hardman over the weekend will continue when he joins the full squad for organized team activities later this month.

“Every day he got a little better — these routes are new to him,” Reid said Monday. “He did a nice job in the red zone which normally is the toughest place to work, but he did extremely well there. He had a good finish.”

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