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

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OAKLAND, CALIFORNIA – SEPTEMBER 15: Demarcus Robinson #11 of the Kansas City Chiefs celebrates a touchdown with Mecole Hardman #17 during the second quarter against the Oakland Raiders at RingCentral Coliseum on September 15, 2019 in Oakland, California. (Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images)

Reviewing Mecole Hardman’s rookie season

During his rookie season, Mecole Hardman was tasked with learning every role within the offense. Head coach Andy Reid’s offense asks a lot on the mental side of the game from his wide receivers. Improving in that area of Hardman’s game would be the key to finding more playing time. It will also make him more than just a speed receiver.

Most of his snaps came within the first half of the season, while Hill or Watkins missed games due to injuries. Hardman lined up everywhere within the offense, learning not only how to get open but understanding where everyone else’s routes were and how they fed off of one another. It gave Hardman experience to learn defensive coverages from every alignment, and what the defense might do based off of other routes within the play.

Another aspect was learning how to adjust routes based on what the defense showed post-snap to gain separation. Early in the season, Hardman struggled to be on the same page as Mahomes when it came to adjusting his routes and being where Mahomes expected him to be.

In the clip above, Mahomes is releasing the ball as Hardman comes out of his break at the top of his route. Hardman sees the safety hanging over the top and looks to flatten his route to provide more room. While the adjustment is good, the timing was not. Learning the timing of the route and when to adjust is essential. Mahomes wasn’t throwing in preparation for Hardman to flatten the route, which led to an overthrow.

On this play, Hardman does a good job of getting off the line of scrimmage against the jam by working outside and dipping his shoulder. Unfortunately, Mahomes was expecting him to break earlier. Hardman runs beyond the first down marker before breaking outside, putting the pass just out of reach.

Hardman wasn’t asked to run many challenging routes during his rookie year. Most of his routes consisted of slants, sweeps, and vertical routes. However, there were flashes of tighter breaking routes where he was asked to sink, gather himself, and explode out of his break quickly.

Hardman does a great job of working inside toward the seam while pushing vertical. His route takes the outside cornerback with him, allowing for Kelce’s route to come wide open if he beats his man. He challenges the hip of the safety over the top, eating up the cushion with speed, which makes the safety uncomfortable. Scared of getting beat deep, the safety turns upfield while unbalanced, and Hardman comes to a stop quickly and works back toward Mahomes. Considering the distance that Hardman ran before breaking, it was quite impressive how quickly he was able to gather himself and turn around toward the line of scrimmage.

Here is another example of Hardman successfully running a curl route against press-man coverage against the Los Angeles Chargers. Utilizing quick feet at the line of scrimmage, Hardman fakes outside before releasing to the inside of the cornerback. By the time the cornerback makes contact, Hardman is nearly even with him. He dips his shoulder to avoid contact and sells vertical. As the cornerback begins to work vertical and recover, Hardman plants his foot and stops almost immediately to turn and work back toward the line of scrimmage.

Manipulating breaking points is something that Hardman showed flashes of throughout his rookie season. That means selling a direction to the defensive back away from where you are actually breaking. The object is to force the defender to commit to one route and to break the other way, which creates separation.

In Week 1 against the Jacksonville Jaguars, Hardman showed manipulation working a corner route. Lining up as the number two receiver, he works vertical and sells a post route over the middle. The safety over the top opens his hips towards the boundary to carry him, and Hardman breaks outside on a corner route. It forced the safety to work a full turn to recover.

The following week, Hardman caught his first touchdown pass by manipulating his route. Lined up in the slot with both the cornerback and safety attempting to stack him, Hardman sells that he is working outside before his final break. By taking a step to the outside and turning his head, the safety sits overtop, giving up inside leverage over the middle. Hardman explodes out of his final break between the two defenders for a touchdown.

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