Before the 2019 NFL Draft, you probably remember me introducing my series, Defining the Draft Pick. The first one I wrote about was how Chris Lindstrom would be a perfect fit for the Green Bay Packers. It’s super fun pre-draft, but it’s also difficult because we don’t know a player’s fate until we actually get to the draft.
Now that the 2019 NFL Draft has come and gone, we have everything set in stone. What do we do now? We find out the WHY. Why would your favorite team draft a player? Sorry, Lions fans, I can’t get too deep into why they took a linebacker in the second round until a later date, but don’t worry, that’s coming.
Moving forward from the worst franchise in the NFL (yes, the Lions), it’s time to focus on the MVP of the league, Patrick Mahomes and his Kansas City Chiefs.
Serious question: have we ever seen a player take over a league quite like Mahomes? It’s been a while, but no is the correct answer. It doesn’t matter who he has at ‘X’, ‘Y’ or ‘Z’, the fact is that he’s going to get the ball to whoever he wants and that offense is going to prosper. The Chiefs have serious weapons in Travis Kelce at tight end and Sammy Watkins (who could end up getting injured). One player that I haven’t listed is Tyreek Hill because we don’t know exactly what’s going to happen with him. Could he get suspended for the season? It’s on the table, and to be honest, everything is on the table at this point. The situation is unfortunate, and it’s clear that the Chiefs are prepared for the worst.
During the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Chiefs were on the clock with the 56th overall pick and ended up selecting Mecole Hardman. You’re probably asking yourself, “Why would they take a wide receiver from Georgia?” It’s really not that hard, man (pun intended). Let’s jump into the film room and I’ll show you why Mecole Hardman and the Chiefs are a match made in heaven.
Getting Underneath Coverages (i.e. Drag Route)
One of my favorite ways for an offense to attack a defense is by using drag routes underneath coverages. Whether a team is in man coverage or zone, it’s not uncommon for teams to use their faster receivers to get across the middle of the field and create yards after the catch. For Mecole Hardman (WR #4), he did plenty for the Georgia Bulldogs, and by being able to do this, it’ll make his transition easy with the Kansas City Chiefs. During his career at Georgia, 31 of his 62 career receptions came as a slot receiver (per Pro Football Focus) for 498 yards.
As you can see from the play above, Hardman is aligned to the trips right side and is the slot receiver. Once other receivers release vertically up the field, Hardman breaks towards the middle of the field and runs a drag route. He gets underneath or in front of coverages (depending on if it’s man or zone). Once he secures the catch, he begins to create.
If you haven’t been paying attention to the Kansas City Chiefs, you’re missing a lot. They love to use Tyreek Hill (WR #10) as a chess piece, and he can do just about anything. As you can see on the play above, the Chiefs are aligned in a bunch trips formation to the right. Hill goes underneath and over the middle of the field. Clearly, he’s wide open and he simply creates some yardage after the catch.
Most teams have one player that they can get the ball to, and that player does the rest of the work. For the Georgia Bulldogs, they had Mecole Hardman. The Kansas City Chiefs have (had?) Tyreek Hill. One of the key plays that brought this to life is the designed screen. Now the Chiefs potentially have both players with this play at their disposal.
Georgia has a stacked twins right formation where they put an emphasis on getting the ball in the hands of Hardman. With so much space at the top of the screen (to the field), it’s clear to see why they called this screen pass. Once the ball is snapped from the left hash, the screen is developed with Hardman stepping off the line of scrimmage and letting a block develop downfield. The pass is delivered and Hardman does the rest of the work. I guarantee he’ll be doing this for the Chiefs.
How does this translate for Hardman to the Chiefs? Regardless of what happens with Tyreek Hill, more than one person can catch a screen pass. This play will remain a big part of the Chiefs’ offense. They consistently get Hill to move in motion or step off the line of scrimmage and create after the catch. It’s not much different on the play above. The ball is on the left hash, the formation is different (trips right), and Hill catches the ball with plenty of green around him. The defense takes the right angles to force him back inside and prevents anything major from happening.
Adjusting to the Ball and Contested Catches
Having gadget players is nice, but it’s also nice to have players that adjust well to the football, especially in tight coverage. If your team can have receivers that can do a little bit of everything, it’s never a bad thing. Right now, there’s some improvement needed from Hardman in this category, but he’s shown the ability to come down with a big catch or two when contested.
On the play above, you can see that Hardman goes vertical and does a solid job tracking the ball. He comes down with the ball despite the tight coverage and the pass being a bit underthrown. This ability to track the ball and to come up with plays in contested catch situations will be a huge benefit to him and the Chiefs’ offense.
Despite a bit of a different release from Tyreek Hill, it’s clear that it’s important to have this ability in the Chiefs’ scheme. Hill does a nice job with his hands and defeats the inside stab from the cornerback. He runs a double move, tracks the ball, and comes up with a big catch. Whether Hill is playing or not, Hardman will be relied upon to make an impact in these situations. After all, he was the Chiefs’ first pick of the 2019 NFL Draft.
Vertical Passing Game will Lead to Big Plays
We can all agree that as long as Patrick Mahomes is throwing the football, good things can happen. Despite how fun it is to see him throw from crazy arm angles or extend plays beyond the pocket, seeing Mahomes throw the ball deep will never get old. For the Chiefs, the vertical passing game is a big part of their success on offense. Speed is one of the key elements of the game of football today. Both Hardman and Hill have speed to burn.
Mecole Hardman ran the 40-yard dash in 4.33 seconds at the Scouting Combine. He won’t always get to use that speed, but as you can tell from the play above, he has speed in spades. This is another example of him tracking the ball, but the real focus is how his speed helps him get vertical up the field. During his career at Georgia, Hardman only had five receptions for 20+ yards or more, but he tallied 229 yards on those five receptions. Patrick Mahomes will certainly rely on this speed, and there shouldn’t be any issues with the new teammates developing a connection.
For example, Tyreek Hill has been heavily relied upon for the vertical passing game in Kansas City. Whether he’s running literally straight up the field or crossing from one hash to the other, Hill’s speed gives defenders fits. He might win in a race against Hardman, but it’s going to be tough for defenses to cover both speedsters if they’re both on the field.
Combining and Finding the Wheel Route
Say it with me: the wheel route remains undefeated. It’s one of the best routes to watch develop, and when you have receivers with plenty of speed, forget about it. Another aspect of the wheel route is when other routes are combined with it, for example, the post-wheel route, or when you see some Air Raid offenses develop a curl route that falls underneath the wheel route. Regardless of how it’s run, it’s a bunch of fun to watch and tends to lead to success for teams.
The play above is a prime example of route combinations from the Georgia Bulldogs. There will bee a curl-wheel combination run out of a twins formation and to the right side. For the Bulldogs, Hardman runs the wheel route and gets up the numbers. There’s man coverage with a single-high safety over the top, and there’s just too much ground for that safety to cover. As we’ve mentioned, Hardman has speed to burn, and he does a good enough job creating separation so there’s a window for the quarterback (Jake Fromm #11) to throw and complete the pass.
One of the more common route combinations in football is the post-wheel route. This is when one receiver (normally the one farthest outside, known as ‘Z’ or ‘X’) runs a post route and breaks into the middle of the field. The other receiver (normally the receiver inside, known as ‘Y’) runs a wheel route to the outside and up the sideline.
As you can tell from the play above, there’s a post-wheel combination at the top of the screen. Chris Conley (WR #17) runs the post route and Tyreek Hill runs the wheel route. It looks like where the coverage is, Mahomes throws this to the back shoulder and Hill brings the pass down for a reception. This could be by design, but either way, you can see that Hardman should transition nicely into a role that displays these types of route combinations.
Jet Motions to Flat Routes
During my film evaluation of both teams, I notice that they love to use motions to keep defenses honest and a bit unbalanced. More often than not, it was Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman being motioned around the backfield or getting underneath coverages to create yards after the catch.
On the play above, Hardman does a fake jet motion and ends up running a flat route toward the sideline. The defense isn’t unbalanced and the box is set with five players inside it. That bodes well for the offensive line, and then when the motion man (Hardman) goes, nobody follows. This leaves Hardman with the edge and nobody to match his speed. Fortunately for the defense, the safety does a great job flying downhill and the cornerback does a nice job playing outside-in on this play. Regardless, Hardman will create these mismatches in the box, and if teams don’t take the right angles to him, he’s going to make them pay.
Oddly enough, it’s another similarity to Tyreek Hill and the Chiefs. They don’t put Hill in motion, but they fake the run and get Hill to the open field with his speed. Something that will benefit a player like Hardman is the offense having installed this delay towards flats so the defense bites on the run. The opportunities for more success in the NFL are going to be there for Mecole Hardman, much like they’ve been for Tyreek Hill.
Provided Spark for the Special Teams
We can all agree that it’s a major plus if players can provide some type of spark on special teams. Regardless of how the game is changing, it’s important to field punts and kickoffs properly. If it’s not done right, the momentum and field position can change quickly. Teams and fans love players who can provide a spark for the special teams for that very reason.
During his career at Georgia, Hardman had 39 punt returns for 592 yards and a touchdown. That’s not the greatest stat we’ve ever seen for the category, but it’s manageable. He averaged just over 15 yards per return, and to be able to add that extra yardage for your offense is crucial. The play above is a prime example of what Hardman can provide as a punt returner.
Neither example leads to a touchdown, but both are gains of 21 yards (Hardman) and 36 yards (Hill). Having the ability to either flip the field or just back your team out of a corner is important and can be a crucial aspect of the game. Both players can provide that spark for the Chiefs on special teams.
Right now, it’s unclear what the future looks like for Tyreek Hill. He’s been suspended from team activities and we might not see him play this season. It’s clear that the Chiefs had some information, and that’s why they went ahead and drafted Mecole Hardman in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft.
However, it’s clear that the tape shows a very talented wide receiver, and he’ll have a role in the Chiefs’ offense. Whether Hill is present doesn’t matter. Hardman has the athletic ability to become a solid option for Patrick Mahomes, and there’s a chance that he can even become the “go-to” option.
New @Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman’s PFF Draft Guide page.
— PFF KC Chiefs (@PFF_Chiefs) April 27, 2019
Settle down, I won’t be giving Hardman the nickname “cheetah” anytime soon, but I am extremely excited to see how he develops during his rookie season. He’ll create plenty of opportunities for himself after the catch, and there will be plays that are specifically designed for him. It was odd seeing the similarities to Hill and Hardman, but they have been used in similar ways. It’s clear that Hill is the far superior player, but Hardman should see plenty of chances to succeed.
He fits the backyard style of football that Mahomes plays, and it won’t be surprising when Hardman is a better pro than a college player. He needs to become more refined within his technique in footwork and hand usage, but overall, there’s plenty for the Chiefs to work with. After diving deeper into the film, it’s clear that Mecole Hardman and the Kansas City Chiefs are a match made in heaven.