For the first time in the era of Patrick Mahomes as the Kansas City Chiefs starting quarterback, there isn’t an established, proven talent at wide receiver behind All-Pro Tyreek Hill. After three years with the team, veteran receiver Sammy Watkins departed in free agency this offseason — and the Chiefs acquired no external solution to try and replace his role.
It leaves a young, unproven group of receivers that need to step up. The one player that owns the highest expectations is the former second-round pick Mecole Hardman. Entering his third NFL season, he has his best chance yet to be a top contributor.
In these offseason practices, Hardman has constantly found himself against one particular defensive teammate. Safety Tyrann Mathieu has noticed a difference in the young playmaker’s attitude.
“I think Mecole is hungrier than he’s ever been,” Mathieu told reporters in his Zoom press conference Thursday morning. “Each and every practice, he’s trying to find me — and I don’t know whether to take that as a compliment or disrespect. I know iron sharpens iron, but it seems like every day, he wants to see me. I’m grateful that I can get him better, it has been a pleasure to see him come to work. Even when he makes a mistake or drops a ball, he’s not hanging his head — he’s running back to the huddle.”
Mathieu continued talking about Hardman and acknowledged how important he is to the team’s success.
“You can see it in his eyes that he’s ready to go, and I think a big part of that is him understanding that we’re going to need him,” Mathieu recognized. “He’s got a big responsibility on his plate. It’s going to take the leaders and the guys in the locker room to encourage him and uplift him cause he’s still a young guy. He’s still a baby in this league, but we need him to play big, and we expect him to do that.”
There's a learning curve for first-year players in the complex scheme that head coach Andy Reid runs. Reid believes the wide receiver position primarily benefits from the experience.
“The wide receiver position is one that... years help improvement at that position,” Reid explained in his Thursday press conference. “There’s a whole lot that goes into the learning process and production, a bit hard to measure, but I believe that. I like the guys that we have; it might be by committee, but we’ve got a good nucleus of wide receivers there, and I feel comfortable with those guys.”
The global pandemic may have disrupted Hardman’s learning curve — but with this year’s offseason closer to normalcy, he has all the tools he needs to break out in 2021. His teammates believe in him, and it sounds like he’s motivated to take the next step.