When the Kansas City Chiefs made wide receiver Mecole Hardman a second-round pick back in 2019, it seemed like they were adding a weapon that would take their offense to an entirely new level due to his game-breaking speed. Two years into his career, that hasn't been the case.
The Chiefs' offense has been plenty good, of course, but Hardman has been only a minor contributor. He caught 26 passes for 538 yards and six scores as a rookie, then 41 passes for 560 yards and four touchdowns during his second season. Through that time, Hardman was on the field for only 45 percent of the team's offensive snaps as he worked behind Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson.
With Watkins now in Baltimore, Hardman has an opportunity to step up as the team's No. 2 receiver. And he knows this is the time to make his presence known.
"It's probably one of my most important seasons," Hardman said at Chiefs camp, per ESPN.com. "I think it's up to me personally to do what I need to do and take advantage of every opportunity that's given to me and gain the trust of the coaches, the rest of the staff and [Patrick Mahomes] and my teammates and just show them I can be a viable asset every Sunday or whatever day we're playing on. It's kind of that time to just take those challenges head on and try to prove myself."
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For his part, Mahomes is already impressed with Hardman's work in Year 3.
"The maturity I guess you could say of how he practices, how he goes about his business, is completely different," Mahomes said. "We've always seen the talent. We've always seen the speed, the way he's able to make plays happen. But with him being so comfortable with the offense and just how we do things, I think it's going to take his game to another level."
Earning the confidence of the quarterback is one thing, but Hardman also needs to ensure the coaching staff is confident enough in his abilities to keep him on the field in the first place. And so far, so good on that front. Chiefs coach Andy Reid has also been suitably impressed with the third-year wideout's work during the offseason and in training camp.
"I like Mecole's work he put in in the offseason and the way he handled himself," Reid said. "I like the way he came out today and what he did here. I look for good things from him. He'll keep getting better as he goes here. This will be a big camp for him."
Hardman is obviously unlikely to overtake either Hill or Travis Kelce as one of Mahomes' top two targets, but if he can emerge as a threat on the outside and consistently put his deep speed and run-after-catch abilities to good use, he'll just make the Kansas City offense that much more dangerous.