KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Tearing through the more than 400 pages of Chiefs head coach Andy Reid's playbook can overwhelm rookies, which is why Mecole Hardman's quick start to his rookie campaign sets him apart from the crowd.
Hardman led the Chiefs with 97 receiving yards in Sunday's 33-28 win over the Baltimore Ravens. His six catches for 158 yards through three games are second-best for a rookie in Reid's offense in 21 seasons. Only DeSean Jackson with 256 yards in 2008 posted more yards through his first three games as a rookie.
“That's a legend, Hall of Fame for sure,” Hardman said when told he ranked No. 2 behind Jackson. “That's good. I'll have to tell Shady (McCoy) about that.”
Hardman's hot start isn't unusual for just Reid's offense. His 158 receiving yards rank third-best through three games for rookies in Chiefs franchise history. Only Sylvester Morris (214 yards in 2000) and Chris Buford (161 yards in 1960) have more receiving yards through three games than Hardman.
Circumstances have forced Hardman to mature faster than the Chiefs anticipated. Tyreek Hill exiting the season opener at Jacksonville after just 12 plays pushed Hardman to 53 snaps against the Jaguars. He saw just a single target in the game, however, without a catch to show for it.
But he's heated up the last two weeks, and he credits the increased work load and responsibilities.
“It’s getting slower,” Hardman said. “That comes with more film watching, more practice and getting more comfortable in the offense itself and knowing what I need to do and how to work.”
He's also showing the ability to learn lessons with the game and apply the results on the fly. Late in the first quarter, a missed communication with quarterback Patrick Mahomes denied the Chiefs a potential big play deep. Mahomes reminded Hardman to “keep doing what he was doing and keep playing fast.”
That advice paid off when before halftime when Hardman and Mahomes connected on an 83-yard touchdown pass that put the Chiefs on top 20-6.
“I had a short motion outside of me and the safety or the nickel moved in a little
bit, and I just saw green grass and Pat hit me and I took care of it from there,” Hardman said.
Mahomes said Hardman has the ability to make big plays when the duo work from the same page.
“You saw whenever he got another opportunity up the seam, he was able to make a play on it,” Mahomes said. 'Once he gets the ball in his hands, it’s like the Tyreek affect where it’s just about over.”
Hardman appreciates the feedback from his quarterback.
“He is the brain of the offense,” Hardman said. “He gets everything going. He tells us what he thinks, what he sees, and we just go off him and we're just going keep playing.”
Hardman hit a speed of 21.74 miles per hour on the run after the catch on the touchdown, according to Next Gen Stats. That's the third-fastest speed posted by a ball carrier this season, behind only Cordarrelle Patterson (22.23) and Saquon Barkley (21.76). Yet surprisingly, Hardman says he wasn't using his high gear.
“No, probably about 80 percent, 85. I just did enough,” Hardman said “I knew the guys around me. I just did enough I can get into the end zone, go from there.”
With Hill expected to remain out in the short term with his dislocated clavicle, the Chiefs can used Hardman continuing to get into the end zone. He feels the lofty expectations from his coaches and teammates, and he relishes the opportunity to prove he's up to the task.
“Every guy around me, they expect greatness out of everybody on the team,” Hardman said. “I just get on that boat and try to be great every day, and it carries onto the field.”