The 2019 offseason, following the Kansas City Chiefs’ first trip to the AFC Championship in 25 years, quickly became the first centered around Tyreek Hill. Prior to the draft, there were legal issues surrounding the team’s superstar receiver, and it was pandemonium among Chiefs Kingdom. Hill was the ultimate weapon for the city’s new MVP quarterback, and the fear was – just as it is for some today – that Mahomes’ magic would fade without Hill.
Fast forward to the 2019 draft, and the Chiefs went shopping for his replacement in Mecole Hardman.
In his freshman year at Georgia (2018), when the Bulldogs fell to Alabama in the national championship game, Hardman found some of the stardom on the big stage and was considered one of the best gimmick receivers. college football. He was Georgia’s speed option to take over the defense (35/543/7) as well as an All-American kick returner averaging 25 yards per return. Still far from the top of his class – which included AJ Brown, Deebo Samuel, Terry McLaurin, Marquise Brown and DK Metcalf – Hardman had stats and a college streak so similar to Hill that general manager Brett Veach thought he had dropped out of gold in the same way as John Dorsey had done with Hill five years before.
It’s important to remember that Mecole Hardman was first drafted to replace Tyreek Hill for the Kansas City Chiefs just three years ago.
In the end, Hill never would have had the issues that surrounded him and he would go on to have three more consecutive 1,000-yard receiving seasons, removing Hardman’s opportunity to become the guy.
Now emerging from his most productive season as a professional, a year in which the entire NFL tested the Chiefs’ powerful offense with a universal fit of deep protection, Hardman is set for his breakout season in 2022. With JuJu Smith-Schuster being one of the most touted slot receivers in the league, and Marquez Valdez-Scantling as a legit X receiver, Hardman’s gimmick abilities and his overall inclusion in the playbook will once again be in the spotlight.
Playing alongside – and more often behind – Hill made Hardman’s skill set less appealing in game design. While he was drafted to replace Hill, his athleticism was never at the same level. However, with their parallel forces and the Chiefs reception room now filled with more well-rounded role players, Hardman will have the opportunity to step into his intended role in 2019 and fill the void of Hill’s absence.
It would be unfair to expect Hardman to perform at the same level as Hill because Hill is in a league of his own. However, the potential for Hardman to burst this coming season deserves a mention. Again, the Reception Room – while generally considered less threatening without Hill – is more complete than it has been in recent years. Travis Kelce is still a force to be reckoned with, and with a better supporting cast in place, the stage is set in Hardman’s favor.