Without a first-round pick for the second straight year in a row (the price to pay to acquire Patrick Mahomes and Frank Clark), the Kansas City Chiefs made their initial picks of the 2019 NFL Draft in the second round.
WR Mecole Hardman
First, the Chiefs traded up from pick No. 61 to No. 56 to select Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman. Head coach Andy Reid said after the draft the Chiefs came in with the hopes of taking a receiver, and the 22-year-old Hardman was available in a good position given his value.
“We like his speed,” Reid said of Hardman, who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL’s Scouting Combine. “But he is more than that. He can play inside, he can play outside. He did both at Georgia. And then he is a phenomenal returner—arguably the best returner in the draft.”
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub, who does pre-draft work when it comes to returners and all things special teams, agreed.
“Dave had the biggest smile in the room,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said. “There were a few returners that we had Dave go out and we do that every year. He came back, and he said Mecole, he thought, was the closest thing to Devin Hester that he’s seen in a long time. He was ecstatic. He is by far the best punt and kick returner in the draft and, again, it’s hard to turn down that kind of speed. When you have a quarterback like Pat Mahomes you want to give him as many weapons as possible.”
When you notice Hardman’s speed and hear that he was the top returner in the draft, it is difficult not to associate that with him being a replacement for Tyreek Hill, especially on the same day Hill’s criminal case was reopened, but Reid made a point to refute that notion in his opening statement.
“[Hardman] is someone Brett had his eye on from the get go,” Reid said. “It doesn’t have anything to do with the things going on (with Hill) now. It is just a player he has felt very good about and the way the board fell, he was right in position there to do that, which happens in the draft.”
Veach seemed gratified when telling the story of why they traded up for Hardman.
“It was funny because we had a lot of action, a lot of phone calls at 61,” he said. “We were looking at the board and, again, you’re never going to pass up speed. When you looked at the wideouts, there was still a lot of good wideouts left, but none that ran 4.27. We got approached for a fifth-round pick, I think it was the Rams, a small move. The teams that were picking before us, we didn’t think that they would go wideout, but I thought there were a few teams that might want to trade up and get in because we had taken a lot of calls.
“We ended up making the move, and then we came back at 63 and called those teams back that were calling us at 61 and they said they weren’t interested in trading anymore. I think we kind of played those cards right. Scouts talk and sure enough those teams said they were looking at Hardman too. I think we made the right calculated guess there. You kind of see how the board’s falling and how those wideouts are falling.”
The Chiefs’ words pin Hardman as an elite returner but developmental receiver. He will draw many comparisons to Hill and deservedly so, but I believe the Chiefs view him as the 2016 rookie version of Hill rather than the polished receiver they have today.
Painting the full picture, it is necessary to note that Hardman tweeted multiple homophobic sentiments dating from 2012-16, and the Chiefs and Hardman acknowledged that.
“I think he will talk to you about it,” Reid said. “He was a kid and young and he said some things he shouldn’t have said. I’ve had a lot of kids and a lot of grandkids and I’m sure they are going to surprise me with some things that you don’t want them to say. That is part of growing up. But he will address it. he will talk to you about it.”
“Yeah, that’s a long time ago,” Hardman said during his conference call. “That’s highly immature of me at the time to tweet things like that and that’s my fault for doing that. I can’t move away from that. That’s not who I am today and that was a very immature decision on my part to tweet things like that. That’s definitely not who I am today and I just got to live with that decision that I made and just move forward from it. But like I said, that was a long time ago and that was an immature decision of me to tweet something like that.”
S Juan Thornhill
After trading pick No. 61, the Chiefs held onto their No. 63 pick to take Virginia safety Juan Thornhill. The Chiefs said they like the 23-year-old because he can seamlessly play multiple positions in the secondary.
“Juan gives you a lot of flexibility so [defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] will have a guy that can play safety, can play nickel, can play either safety in the box or on the back end and then at corner,” Reid said. “He gives you some flexibility there along with Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu), they give them some flexibility. And then you see what we have done with (Daniel) Sorensen and how flexible he is playing in the backend and in the box in dime situations and nickel situations at the nickel position.
“Spags loved the flexibility that [Thornhill] gives you. I compare him to the Honey Badger where you are going to feel comfortable moving him around a little bit. So, if you get into a matchup game you can kind of play that game with these guys. As a play caller and designer, it gives you a little bit of flexibility there.”
Veach agreed, explaining that Thornhill has the toughness to play in the box, but he does give the Chiefs a true free safety.
“Juan is very versatile—he can do a lot of different things for you,” he said. “We have some really good safeties, but these guys that we have, I think the knack that they have is kind of down low. The Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) kind of said in his press conference he feels like Superman the closer he is to the football. Armani Watts had a lot of those traits and Dan (Sorensen) is a guy that played down a lot. (Jordan) Lucas is a guy that has some range back there, but I think Juan gives you a true free safety, a center fielder, and he has tremendous ball skills and range on the back end. I think this really gives you a free safety with playmaking skills back there that can take the football away, but he can also slide down and cover some in the slot.”
Thornhill also offers great football instincts, which he says he developed as a result of his experience at the cornerback position.
“The reason I think I read things really well is because in high school I played quarterback,” Thornhill said during his conference call, “and most of the time I can tell what quarterbacks are thinking just because I have the quarterback background and everything like that. That definitely helped me out a lot. Just being able to see the quarterback’s eyes and make a play on the ball.”
Thornhill should fit in well with the Chiefs given his basketball acumen.
“I think you guys saw the basketball highlights of him,” Veach said. “He is just a natural athlete. But he has great eyes and great vision back there. A natural knack to take the football away. He sees things develop quickly. He is able to quickly read and react. Aside from that, this is a guy that played corner his first two years and then they kind of moved him all over the field. So, there was a lot on his plate at Virginia. I think he is a great addition. We have numbers at our safety position, but there aren’t a lot of pure free safeties that can come down and cover like Juan (Thornhill) can.
“I just think the ability to move him around the field was something that was really attractive. He was another guy, too, that where we got him at pick 63, I don’t think a lot of us, before the night started, would have thought he would have been there at pick 63. He was a guy that probably fell a little bit lower than we thought, too.”
The Chiefs selected defensive tackle Khalen Saunders with their final day-two selection. Click here for more information on day three.