Can Mecole Hardman be more than a deep threat in 2020?

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KANSAS CITY, MO – DECEMBER 29: Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs fielded his 104-yard kick return for a third quarter touchdown against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium on December 29, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images)

Mecole Hardman had an electric rookie season as a receiver and returner on special teams, but what should we expect for 2020?

The Kansas City Chiefs selected Georgia wide receiver Mecole Hardman with their first selection in the 2019 NFL Draft. At the time, many believed that he was a replacement for Tyreek Hill, given the drama that surfaced right before the draft. Instead, the Chiefs have been grooming Hardman to become another explosive weapon for quarterback Patrick Mahomes.

Coming out of Georgia, Hardman demonstrated the physical tools to be a star at the next level, but several areas needed development. His route tree was limited in college, running primarily crossing patterns and fade routes from the slot. He rarely had to deal with press-man coverage at the line of scrimmage, wasn’t asked to make sharp cutting breaks, and needed more development reading defensive coverages.

Early in the 2019 season, Hardman was thrown onto the field to fill in for Hill after his injury in Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He spent the season learning from Hill on how to improve in both the mental and physical parts of the game. During his rookie season, Hardman hauled in 26 passes for 538 yards and scored 7 touchdowns.

During Hill’s rookie season in 2016, he had 416 offensive snaps (40.7%) and hauled in 61 receptions for 593 yards and six touchdowns. In 2019, Hardman saw the field for 471 snaps (44.86%). Both players were utilized as somewhat gadget players within the offense. In 2017, Hill was given a massive boost with the departure of Jeremy Maclin. He was tasked with being the number one wide receiver and saw 776 snaps on offense, which was good for 75.56% of the offensive plays.

Hardman will have to prove himself to earn more playing time in 2020, given the number of playmakers the Chiefs possess. In 2017, the only real competition for targets on offense was tight end Travis Kelce. The rest of the wide receiver room consisted of Demarcus Robinson, Albert Wilson, and Chris Conley. With players like Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Kelce remaining in 2020, Hardman will have a more challenging time getting the same amount of targets in his sophomore season. With Demarcus Robinson returning on a one-year deal, Hardman’s first order of business will be beating him for playing time.

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