There is a reason why the Kansas City Chiefs traded up in the 2019 NFL Draft to pick Mecole Hardman.
In terms of on-the-field talent, the former Georgia receiver might be the closest thing this draft class has to Tyreek Hill, a Chiefs receiver. Hill is embroiled in a criminal case surrounding injuries sustained by his three-year-old son. With Hill likely gone from the team next season, Hardman looks like his heir apparent on both offense and special teams.
The Chiefs were so confident in Hardman’s abilities that they traded the No. 61 and No. 167 picks for the No. 56 overall pick to select him. Hardman’s elite speed will allow his playmaking skills to translate to the next level. He ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the NFL combine in March, which tied for fifth among all participants and tied for third among all receivers.
Luckily for Hardman, the Chiefs won’t have to rework their playbook to fit him in. Kansas City head coach Andy Reid has a history of using Hill’s speed to the team’s advantage. Hill usually lined up in the slot receiving position, but after that, there was no telling what would happen. Reid often used Hill in jet sweeps, bubble screens and short underneath routes. He ranked ninth in the NFL with 573 yards after the catch.
Reid will likely use Hardman in the same way. One of Hardman’s nine touchdowns in his senior season at Georgia came on a 34-yard reception from a screen pass. Jake Fromm jokingly said last season that he gets mad when Hardman fails to turn a short screen pass into a huge gain.
Hardman can also be effective in deep routes. Hardman ranked third among draft-eligible receivers from the SEC with 2.55 yards per route run, according to Pro Football Focus. Guess who ranked third in the NFL last year with 2.54 yards per route run? Hill.
Hill no doubt benefited from Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ elite arm. The 2018 NFL MVP threw for 5,096 yards last season. Hardman’s stats will also be boosted by Mahomes’ elite ability.
Hardman will be a force in the return game as well. He ranked No. 1 in the SEC last year with 20.1 yards per punt return. He had eight punt returns of 20 yards or more in 2018 and seven the year prior.
Hardman is more than a one-trick pony on special teams. He was named by ESPN to its All-America first team as a kick returner and by Sports Illustrated to its All-America second team, also as a kick returner. He racked up 353 kick return yards in 2018 and 505 kick return yards in 2017.
Expect Hardman to eat up Hill’s reps on punt returns. Hill had 213 punt return yards last year.
It won’t be easy for Hardman to replace Hill’s production on the field. But no one is better suited for the job. Odds Shark puts Hardman’s odds of winning the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year at 10-to-1, tied for fifth. And why wouldn’t it? Hardman might only be a second-round draft pick, but he and the Kansas City Chiefs are a perfect match.