Mecole Hardman showed flash in 2020, this year we might get to see the substance.
In 2019 the Kansas City Chiefs receiving unit was given the title, “The Legion of Zoom” a play on of the Seattle Seahawks “Legion of Boom”, which was the name given to their incredible secondary of the early 2010’s teams. While the Chiefs wideouts did have outstanding seasons that led to a Lombardi Trophy, it could be the unit in 2020 that goes down in history, and a large part of that could be attributed to the development we could see from Mecole Hardman.
Hardman was the Chiefs first pick in the 2019 NFL Draft and was somewhat of a shock to Chiefs Kingdom who expected it to be a defensive heavy draft. When his name was called in the second round the first thing many fans including myself saw was the pure blazing speed that Hardman possessed. A unit that already had Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson just got faster, and also added another potential superstar into the Chiefs offense. What sparked my interest even more in the pick were the words used by Offensive Coordinator Eric Bieniemy to describe Hardman.
This led to me doing a small comparison of the two, first by looking at each of their numbers as rookies.
Now there are some big differences in the circumstances in which they played, with Hardman having Patrick Mahomes in the most pass-happy situation in the NFL while Ochocinco played in a more run dominant era, with far lesser QB play. Still their stats do seem somewhat similar, but their style of play makes the comparison all the more believable.
The above clip is from an older Ochocinco in his swan song as a New England Patriot but still the quick transition and suddenness he showed in this route reminded me of a specific route that Hardman ran against of all teams the Patriots in 2019.
Both players share a level of fluid hip movement, as well as footwork that is pure eye candy. Where they differ is that Ochocinco was still more of a traditional wideout even in his first few seasons whereas the Chiefs found multiple ways to incorporate Hardman, and found that getting him into space and letting that rare speed work was highly effective.
We saw Andy Reid use a multitude of ways to find ways to get Hardman involved and in space, and the reason for that being while he did show tremendous potential as a route runner, and potentially a number one receiver at some point in his career he was just no ready for prime time reps yet in 2019. But with speed like like he possess it made getting him on the field much easier.
Back in January, I wrote an article where I gave each of the Chiefs rookies a grade for the season, and I gave Hardman a B for his play in 2019, which I felt like was a fair grade given the on-field impact he had. I described him as mostly a home run hitter for his first year, but it will be his year two development in short to intermediate routes that could define him as a player in 2020.
These routes will be key to the development of Hardman in 2020. Now it will come time for the Hill comparison. We have already seen teams start to give Hardman the Hill treatment where they are willing to play off several yards or have a deep zone designed to prevent a deep play from connecting. This will make it even more imperative that Hardman develops his underneath skills as a route runner. He has the ability and we have seen on his deep concepts how smooth and easy he makes it, but year two we should expect to see the most growth in this category.
While we still see Hardman develop his wideout skills, his speed and versatility will still make him a nightmare for opposing teams to have to game plan for. We saw this flip pass to open to get the edge a few times from the Chiefs, run with Hardman and Hill, I expect this will be another play the Chiefs run consistently with Hardman in 2020 just because it is so hard to stop.
Even with potential new responsibilities in the offense I still think Hardman will return kickoffs in 2020, as well as take punt duty. One of the reasons I gave him a B on my initial grades was because of some struggles he had early adjusting to fielding punts and kicks as well as ball security. We did however see him come alive toward the end of the season and even have the return that sparked a comeback in the playoffs. In the end speed kills.
There is a very good chance that we see more of the same as last year from Mecole Hardman this year. We might not see a giant jump in numbers or production for the simple fact that playing in an offense with Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Sammy Watkins makes it hard to get targets. Where we should look for improvement with Hardman is in his ability to continue to develop his route running and become a more complete player in that aspect. They will still take advantage of having Hardman being one on one due to doubles that Hill and Kelce will draw, and still utilize him with the flip passes or reverses to the edge where his speed can be utilized. Hardman has the rare trait of raw speed, and is at a different level of speed of all players in the NFL except for one. If he continues to grow in KC then he might not only burn other teams defenders, but he might also burn his path into the history of Chiefs football.