Going into what has been widely considered a make-or-break year for his career, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman was among players speaking to the media via Zoom on Tuesday.
When asked what he had been focused on this offseason, Hardman replied, “Just route running. Just trying to do the whole tree — getting in and out of my breaks. Just being aware of coverages, going over film a little bit more. So just trying to become an overall better player — and just doing the little things to help out in the long run.”
After the Chiefs selected Hardman in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, many fans and media have lamented that his role on offense through two seasons has been disappointing and one-dimensional.
The Chiefs allowed fellow wide receiver Sammy Watkins to leave in free agency for the Ravens this offseason. The team did not sign a veteran replacement for Watkins — and they chose not to address the position early in the 2021 NFL Draft.
Hardman thus enters camp with the best chance of his career to come out of camp as a starter.
“No, no pressure,” Hardman replied when he was asked about competing to be the team’s No. 2 receiver. “Just come in and do my job and do what I need to do and just get better as the days go by. So basically, just day by day getting better and hopefully that’s enough to put me where I need to be. But just come in and be a dog and do what I need to do so that’s what I’m looking forward to doing.”
Hardman knows he is not the only player vying for more opportunity with Watkins out of the mix.
“It’s up to us three — me, D-Rob (Demarcus Robinson) and (Byron) Pringle — to fill in that void the best way we can,” he said. “If that’s all of us splitting time or one getting more playing (time) than the others, we just doing know how it’s going to go. That’s up to Coach — and how they decide to do that. But all we know that is we are going to go ahead and work and give our best and whatever role is given to us, we are going to do that role the best that we can.”
After working out with quarterback Patrick Mahomes in Texas during the 2020 offseason, Hardman said they could not practice outside of team activities this year.
“We just weren’t in the same vicinities when he was training and everything, but we got time in camp,” said Hardman. “Plenty of time in camp to get that chemistry down and the timing down, so it shouldn’t be an issue.”
Hardman recognizes the importance of his third NFL season. With new faces in the wide receiver room, he looks forward to sharing what he has learned through two seasons with younger players, as the veterans on the team helped him.
Like many other Chiefs, he will be using the disappointment of Super Bowl LV as motivation for the upcoming season.
“I think as a collective group, we are all just trying to get back to get that taste out of our mouth from losing that game.”
This third season for Hardman will likely determine the course of the rest of his career — whether he can be a starting NFL wide receiver or if his career will max out as a return specialist and situational gadget player. Hardman drew praise for his improvements in the offseason program from Mahomes and from safety Tyrann Mathieu.
The Athletic’s Nate Taylor also noted his improved route running and consistency coming out of minicamp, expecting him to enter training camp as a starter. With the offseason buzz Hardman brings to camp, expect him to get every opportunity to expand his role and produce — even opposite fellow speed wide receiver Tyreek Hill.