Before we get into any of our breakdowns of the Chiefs 2019 draft class, I wanted to make sure to thank you all on behalf of the Arrowhead Pride draft team for engaging with us throughout the last few months. This was a big undertaking for us with the KC Draft Guide, the podcasts, the videos and the articles and we really appreciate everyone who listened, watched, read or bought. Thank you all so much. Let’s talk football now.
We’re going to break down every draft pick of the Chiefs 2019 class.
We’ll be bringing back the Lottery Tickets series where we’ll look at undrafted free agents as well. We’ll be starting though with the Chiefs first selection of the weekend, WR Mecole Hardman from Georgia. After watching the tape, you can’t help but think the face of the class, the first pick, was a direct response to the inevitable release of Tyreek Hill.
I dived into Hardman’s tape to get a feel for the player the Chiefs traded picks 61 and 167 to move up to acquire at 56. The first game I watched and funnily enough he did make 6th round selection Rashad Fenton miss on a tackle.
Here is Chiefs 2nd round pick Mecole Hardman making Chiefs 6th round pick Rashad Fenton miss a tackle on a hitch route. pic.twitter.com/VwlmLg29GF— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) April 28, 2019
We’ll probably see these two line up a few times in training camp. There was a taste. You can see in that clip that his route running, even on simple routes, will need work. He has a long way to go as he develops his route running ability. There are few routes he thrives at to this point in his career. Andy Reid mentioned in his press conference that he’s closer to Hill as a route runner coming out and I agree entirely.
The Chiefs didn’t select Hardman because he runs routes like his teammate Riley Ridley. They took him because he is the fastest player in the class.
Hardman didn’t have a top-40 time at the NFL Combine, but his 4.33 40-yard dash in Indianapolis shows up on tape better than other players in the class. Former Bulldog Chris Conley ran 4.35 but you could never tell on tape. You won’t have that problem with Hardman.
The top end speed is very obviously the trait the Chiefs coveted in acquiring Hardman. Great burst and balance down the sideline. pic.twitter.com/fopTTky6pM— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) April 28, 2019
As for downfield ability, there are a few plays he’s shown him utilizing that speed downfield.
Mecole Hardman is going to catch bubble and slip screens, get the ball on jets, and then hit a couple big plays down field. That's his value year one. Here's his downfield ability on a corner-post for six in Columbia. pic.twitter.com/TDkxf0yf0J— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) April 29, 2019
This is probably one of the best routes I saw Hardman run throughout the tape I watched. Good sell with eyes and shoulders on the corner than stuck his foot in the ground and ran toward the post for a wide open touchdown. Quality celebration afterward too.
The value for Hardman over other vertical threats in the class than guys like DK Metcalf is likely the special-teams ability he possesses. Special teams coach Dave Toub comped it as Devin Hester-ish.
Hardman certainly shows ability in the return game. The burst is real. pic.twitter.com/Z3qZwxccid— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) April 29, 2019
David Hinson, the area scout for Hardman summarized him well.
“He has some things that not many other people have,” Hinson said. “The speed, burst and quickness are not things we can coach.”
Hinson likes his makeup as well.
“He’s got great energy, and he loves the game of football. With the coaching staff we had and his personality and his work ethic, I think he’ll be on the road for success.
“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 so he has all those routes we can see him get down the field and make plays down the field. But at the same time doing that quick stuff, getting the ball in his hands quick and have him make plays.”
Make no mistake about it: the Hardman selection is a direct response to the Hill situation.
Their descriptions of his developmental arc, his value to the current team and how they plan to use him directly mirrors what Hill’s role looked like his rookie year. They’re hoping to develop him into the terrifying vertical threat that we’ve seen the last few years. Hill’s change of direction is better than Hardman’s, but the rookie can still potentially provide some of the things you got with Hill.
Terez Paylor with Yahoo! Sports might have said it best:
For the O to work at peak efficiency, it requires at least one vertical threat defenses must account for. Hardman, they believe, has that. His role will grow as he refines his sight adjustments & route-running but his explosiveness is what won them over:https://t.co/PwF6f0TRZT— Terez A. Paylor (@TerezPaylor) April 29, 2019
The bottom line
The Chiefs aggressively moved up to address a need they had on the roster for a fast receiver that can stress and stretch the field vertically, provide value on jet sweeps and in the screen game and give the return game additional value and depth.
They zeroed in on the speed trait and came away with the best game speed in the class for an offensive weapon.
The value is a little rich for me with how far he has to go developmentally. He could be a guy who has grown up through the process and made more significant jumps than others. That happens all the time, especially for players who may not have played a position long like Hardman.
It’s probably one of my least favorite picks of the class, but I like it much better than the initial pick—Breeland Speaks—last year. In Hardman, I see a clear path to development, the reason he is here and the value he has to this roster.
I’m genuinely excited to see Hardman in training camp to get a feel for his growth since his last college game. If they hit on Hardman, this class could be major reason why the window the Chiefs have with Patrick Mahomes on a cheaper contract stays wide open. Hardman has a long way to go, but I think he has a chance to be solid.
I know people have thrown the DeSean Jackson comp around a lot, but I’d be happy with more of a Tedd Ginn parallel. Ginn’s peaks would certainly be worth the cost to pick Hardman.