Ever since he was drafted in the second round (56th overall) in 2019, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman has been living in Tyreek Hill’s shadow. In the eyes of many, the former Georgia wideout was taken simply because the Chiefs weren’t sure that Hill — then embroiled in an off-the-field situation that would ultimately be resolved — would ever play another down with the team.
But Hill stayed another three seasons in Kansas City, remaining a vital cog in the Chiefs’ offensive machine. Meanwhile, Hardman had to make do with the targets still available after Hill and tight end Travis Kelce came through the line in quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ game-day buffet.
But now — with Hill traded to the Miami Dolphins and Hardman coming off the best season of his career — you’d expect him to wish his old teammate the best with his new team but be relieved to have an opportunity to snatch the limelight.
But speaking to reporters via Zoom on Monday, Hardman didn’t leave that impression.
“I would love for him to be back on the team,” he said of Hill. “Somebody like that? You want [them] on your team. He brought a lot to the game. Defenses have got to prepare for [him]. So I think [losing him is] definitely a hit, for sure.”
Hardman also said that filling Hill’s very large shoes wouldn’t just be up to him.
“When a generational type of player has left the team,” he noted, “somebody’s got to step up and fill the role; most of us [will] have to step up and fill that void.”
While acknowledging that his new opportunity will likely be bigger in Hill’s absence, he said he doesn’t yet know exactly what that will look like.
“Honestly, I don’t know,” he shrugged. “I think we’ll figure it out when we get to OTAs and training camp. We’ll see the plan the coaches have for me — and see how it goes.”
But his quarterback already sees Hardman as a big part of the answer.
“I think that whenever Mecole’s gotten an opportunity in this offense — even if it’s when Tyreek had to go out and he would come in and run the routes that Tyreek ran — he made plays happen,” Mahomes told reporters on Monday. “He made a lot of big plays and big moments — especially at the end of last season.”
Mahomes said as far as he was concerned, Hardman needs to put aside all the talk about replacing Hill — and simply focus on being himself.
“He doesn’t have to be Tyreek Hill,” insisted Mahomes. “He has to be Mecole Hardman. And I think Mecole Hardman can be a great player in this offense. He’s made a Pro Bowl already, and I think he can keep getting better and better.”
“The one nice thing is that we know what Mecole can do,” added head coach Andy Reid. “And we have a lot of confidence in what he can do. He’s coming off a good year — and he going to continue to grow here over the next couple of years. Mecole has the speed like a Tyreek had. A different player, but he gives you a nice skillset there with the speed and quickness — and the ability to run with the ball in his hands; he’s a very aggressive runner when he has the ball in his hands.”
But there’s already been controversy regarding Hardman’s transition into a more significant offensive role. When Mahomes — in Texas for the offseason — posted a workout video to Instagram on April 6, Hardman wasn’t among the players to whom the quarterback was throwing. This brought suggestions that Hardman wasn’t putting in the effort to improve his chemistry with Mahomes — which has sometimes been perceived as suspect.
But when another Texas workout video was posted last week, Hardman was catching balls from his quarterback. For his part, Mahomes said the whole thing was overblown.
“I think since Mecole’s been here, we’ve had COVID the last two years — and obviously, this year he came down there. So it isn’t like he’d been missing a lot of things here and there. It kind of got overblown a little bit because he wasn’t there the first week, but he’s been here ever since.”
Hardman agreed, saying that he had planned all along to be by his quarterback’s side beginning in the second week.
“I mean, I’ve been working out the whole offseason — not to mention when we go to OTAs and training camp and have four months with Pat to throw,” he said. “Honestly, [people] have to understand that [players] have individual lives as well. I can’t get on Pat’s ass all day, you know what I’m saying? It’s not going to happen.”
“He’s a guy who has always worked hard,” Mahomes said of Hardman “He’s a guy who is always putting in the time, just kind of waiting for his opportunity. I mean, when you have two All-Pro Chiefs legends that are getting a lot of the catches, it’s hard to get everybody the targets that they want. But every time he’s in there and has his opportunity, he’s going 100 miles an hour — as hard as he can. So you respect guys like that. And you’re happy that he’ll have an even bigger chance — a bigger opportunity — this year.
“I expect big things from him.”