KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs entered the NFL Draft unsure about the status of star wide receiver Tyreek Hill, yet they knew two things for certain – they wanted a wide receiver, and they loved Georgia's Mecole Hardman.
General manager Brett Veach landed his man by moving up five spots from No. 61 to No. 56 in landing Hardman, giving head coach Andy Reid another weapon for his offense.
“That is something we came into the draft wanting,” Reid said. “And then you have to see how the board falls on that and where people go. This just happens to be in a place where we felt, and Brett felt, is in striking distance where he could go up and get him.”
Hardman may not boast the name recognition of other receivers in his draft class, but several NFL teams rated Hardman high on their draft board. The New York Jets reportedly had a deal in place with the Philadelphia Eagles to nab Hardman at No. 57 overall in the second round before the Chiefs jumped up from No. 61 to get him.
While the Chiefs were working to move up from No. 61, several teams inquired about obtaining the team's other second-round pick at No. 63. When the Chiefs circled back with the team most interested in 63, the deal was off the table – they wanted to get Hardman, too.
Track speed made Hardman the draft-season crush for a number of offensive-minded coaches and scouts. He deliver a blazing 4.33 in the 40-yard dash, and ran leadoff for the Georgia 4×100-meter relay team that finished sixth in the 2017 SEC Championships.
Area scout David Hinson, who covered Hardman in college, quotes the age-old adage that you can't teach speed.
“There's teachable things and unteachable things,” Hinson said, “and speed, burst and quickness are things that we can't teach or we can't coach, but we can teach guy how to get out of his routes, how to stem routes, how to work on some routes that he hasn't done before, and he has the ability.”
His quick twitch and ability to lay double moves on defenders make him a coverage nightmare. Reid covets those types of receivers with that kind of variety, players with whom he can tinker and create mismatches.
“Make the defense have to cover a variety of players and blend it and try to work to their strengths and try to be as creative as you can with that,” Reid said.
The Chiefs won't be asking Hardman to takeover for Hill on day one, and with good reason. Rookie receivers don't normally light the league on fire in Reid's offense.
Hill's 593 receiving yards in 2016 rank third-most for a rookie receiver under Reid, following DeSean Jackson with 912 yards in 2008 and Jeremy Maclin with 773 yards in 2009. Jackson (1,156) and Hill (1,183) are the only two second-year receivers with 1,000-yard seasons under Reid.
Reid says Jackson was the more polished receiver coming out of college, but he believes Hardman is similar in development as Hill was in his rookie season.
“DeSean was a phenomenal route runner coming out,” Reid said. “Now, you’ve seen the growth with Tyreek and I think you will see that with this kid. He catches well. He has great secure hands and he can run like a son of a gun.”
What Hardman can do to help the Chiefs is to stretch the field, Patrick Mahomes can get the ball on the edges horizontally and take shots deep vertically. A receiver with reliable hands and blazing speed using simple route concepts can thrive in a limited role, Hinson explained.
“We know we can work him on the screen game, we know we can work him on reverses, we see him running the vertical stuff, running gos, running posts, running corners,” Hinson said. “So he has all those routes that we see him get down the field and make plays down the field, but at the same time doing that quick stuff, get the ball in his hands quick and have him make plays.”
That's how the Chiefs worked Hill into the lineup as a rookie. He didn't play more than 18 snaps in any of the team's first six games, and didn't play a majority of the offensive snaps in game until halfway through the season. Reid believes Hardman's college tape shows he can handle that work load.
“On the outside, he goes by people, he is not running into a whole lot of traffic,” Reid said of Hardman, “although he ran some shallow cross routes similar to some of the things we do with our receivers.”
If Hardman does that, it opens up a world of options for Travis Kelce, Sammy Watkins and Damien Williams. It also allows Reid to use fellow another fellow rookie, running back Darwin Thompson, with room to work in space.
There's a long way to go before the Chiefs travel to Jacksonville in Week 1 of the season. Yet Veach believes that Harman will be ready to contribute in a meaningful way.
“I would expect you’d see a bunch of him and I think he’ll be ready to go Week 1 for sure,” Veach said. “That’s my opinion. Again, I don’t tell Coach (Reid) who to play and who not to play, but if you’re asking me, I would expect to see him a lot early on.”
Hinson got to know Hardman while on the scouting trail, and he sees other qualities that tell him the 21-year-old from Bowman, Georgia can succeed in the NFL.
“The thing you like about him – if you haven't met him already – he's got great energy and he loves the game of football,” Hinson said. “With the coaching staff that we have and his personality and his work ethic, I think he'll be on the road for success.”