Every day without any new news, it becomes more likely that wide receiver Tyreek Hill will be a member of the Kansas City Chiefs to begin the 2019 season. But that doesn’t mean he will physically start the year with the club.
Regardless of what happens to Hill when it comes to his legal and off-the-field matters, the league could suspend Hill for a number of games. And if it does, many believe rookie wide receiver Mecole Hardman, the team’s top pick in the 2019 NFL draft, will be thrown right into the fire to help fill that void.
“He’s continuing to develop and he’s extremely fast and he plays that way,” Chiefs wide receivers coach Greg Lewis said of Hardman, who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL’s Scouting Combine. “That’s what we want. We want a guy that can play fast, take the top off the coverage, get through and make plays down the field.”
A guy that can play fast, take the top off the coverage, get through and make plays down the field. Sounds a lot like Hill, doesn’t it?
But the glaring reality is that the 21-year-old Hardman is not Hill. At least not yet.
“It’s my job to develop him as a complete route runner with the underneath stuff,” Lewis added. “He’s doing a tremendous job. He’s in here early every day trying to find the ins and outs to help himself become better as a professional football player.”
Though Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub said cornerback Tremon Smith is still the starter at kick returner, I believe the Chiefs’ minimum expectations in trading up to select Hardman were that he could fill the shoes of Hill as a home-run hitter on punt and kick returns.
If you can keep the fear in the opposing punter in kicking the ball to your returner, there is a better chance he shanks it out of bounds. And if he shanks it out of bounds and the reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes has 45 yards to travel instead of 60... well, best of luck.
Toub, who plays a role when it comes to scouting players on special teams ahead of the draft, highlighted Hardman’s film when asked about him on Thursday.
“Watching him in college, you could see the burst and explosiveness after he catches the ball and separates from quality players,” Toub said. “So we feel like he can do the same thing here at this level.”
Hardman returned 39 punts and 35 kicks at Georgia, returning one punt for a touchdown. But even with more live action as a punt returner, Toub explained that the rookie is more polished taking kickoffs.
“He’s probably more advanced right now as a kickoff returner because [as a] punt returner, it just takes a long time to get the ball reads and make catches and tough catches and short catches and catches in a crowd,” he said. “So we’re just going to be out there, we’re going to catch a lot of balls and get him right.”
The more balls Hardman fields, the better he will be. And the better he can be, the more comfortable the Chiefs will feel as training camp draws nearer.
Of course, that isn’t the end goal for Hardman. Like the Chiefs were eventually able to accomplish with Hill over a three-year period beginning in 2016, they hope to turn Hardman into a viable NFL receiver.
Hardman may never be exactly like Hill, despite the natural comparison given the situation in which the Chiefs have found themselves. But another comparison came up this week thanks to the Chiefs new behind-the-scenes show, “The Franchise.”
Offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy was caught on camera in the draft room relating the Chiefs rookie to legendary Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Johnson when he came out of college. Johnson went on to become a three-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowler.
Fuck yeah this is dope, i want to cover him 1 on 1, gotta test his feet https://t.co/UJz4Ro6Kub— Chad Johnson (@ochocinco) May 31, 2019
Unsurprisingly, Bieniemy backtracked when he was asked on Thursday.
“To put that pressure on Mecole, I think that’s a tremendous height to compare him to,” he said. “I will say this — Mecole is doing a heck of a job. He’s a smart, intelligent kid. Obviously, when you come into this level, there are some things you need to continue to work on—the speed of the game being one of them and just understanding the urgency in which we have just to get better.
“We don’t have a lot of time on the practice field, so we want to make sure that we have a sense of urgency and a sense of purpose in everything that we do out here, and he’s improving on that every single day.”
As the world expects Hardman to be Hill... or Chad Johnson... the Chiefs continue to pursue daily progress—both as a returner and wide receiver.