Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman spoke to reporters on Monday from the team’s training camp at Missouri Western in St. Joseph. As the team prepares for the 2022 season, the fourth-year Hardman now finds himself the most experienced wide receiver in the offense after the offseason departures of wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Demarcus Robinson.
“I think it’s just a different kind of environment now,” he observed. “You don’t have everybody around that you used to. It’s taking more responsibility as the veteran in the group — actually, I’ve been in the offense. Just trying to lead better than you have in past years. That’s how I’m going to take an approach, just lead by example and just work hard.”
After trading Hill to the Miami Dolphins in March, how the Chiefs will replace his production is arguably the most important story at camp. The former Chiefs star has helped drive the national narrative by continually keeping the transaction in the spotlight, notably via his own podcast. But Hardman did not appear concerned about the drama surrounding his former teammate’s exit.
“I’ve seen the highlights and previews of it,” he said of Hill’s podcast, “but I haven’t watched an episode yet. But I hear the highlights of it and stuff... Whatever he’s saying, he’s saying. I don’t think it really affects us and what we’re trying to do over here on this side.”
Hardman did acknowledge that Hill’s absence will create new opportunities for him — especially given the seeming overlap in their skillsets.
“It definitely opens up some opportunities,” he agreed. “Definitely, [there are] some more targets out there that’s vacant right now. So, with his absence, it definitely opens up more opportunities for all of us to step in and just have a bigger role than we normally have. Just go out there and try to execute.”
Building upon last year’s late stretch
After a strong close to the season, Hardman should feel confident in his ability to take on more of Hill’s role. In last season’s Week 17 win in Denver, in which an injured Hill was limited to only 12 snaps, Hardman played one of the best games of his career, gaining 113 yards from scrimmage on nine touches.
“It feels good,” he said of his confidence. “I think I was getting more involved, [and] just making the plays I should have been making. That was a good thing, now we’re just trying to carry that momentum into this next season and try to build off of that.”
Hardman enters a contract year following an offseason that saw wide receiver contracts explode in value. The 2019 second-round pick made was adamant that he is not looking past the season in front of him.
“Obviously, you know it’s your last year,” he offered. “But you can’t look too far ahead. You’ve just got to take it a day at a time — and just do what you’ve got to do. On the field [and] off the field, and then all that stuff will take care of itself.”
Throughout his Chiefs career, Hardman has at times seemed written off by Chiefs fans and media — as well as unfairly compared to several receivers who were drafted after him in 2019. He remains confident, however, that 2022 can be his season to break out, especially with tight end Travis Kelce still on the field with him.
“I think I’m ready,” he predicted. “Learning from the guys who’ve been in front of me — the veterans that’ve been in front of me. Also having Travis still here. I think [I’m] just developing. Tracking the ball, looking up instead of looking back, knowing what’s around me, knowing my surroundings.
“I’m just trying to be better year after year. I’m definitely poised for this year, and definitely [I] have gotten better every year actually.
“I’m not trying to prove nothing. I know what I can do; I know what I’m capable of doing. I’m going to go out there and do that — and then let the work speak for itself.”