One of the new, important additions to the Chiefs offense has been wide receiver Mecole Hardman. He has been especially critical following the early season injury of Tyreek Hill.
In an effort to see how important Hardman has been to the Chiefs offense so far, I decided to sit down and observe every one of Hardman’s targets from week 2 to week 4 (and some bonus plays I’ll highlight in the piece, as well).
Let’s take a look at the results:
This is quite obvious, considering Hardman ran a 4.33 second 40-yard dash at the combine. Regardless, it’s important to note that he’s not just an underwear athlete. This dude can fly.
Mecole Hardman (@MecoleHardman4) reached 21.74 MPH on his 83-yard receiving TD, the fastest speed reached by a ball carrier on a scoring play this season.— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) September 22, 2019
Hardman had 8.3 yards of separation from the nearest defender when the pass arrived.#BALvsKC | #ChiefsKingdom pic.twitter.com/HTJyI9BGsr
Let’s start by taking a look at this play, where he was able to approach the speed limit in a school zone.
Hardman starts lined up in the slot, with Sammy Watkins motioning inside. Once the ball is snapped, Hardman is streaking down the seam.
The outside corner is occupied by the fly route from Demarcus Robinson and the single high safety seems to be worried about Travis Kelce running down the sideline, causing him to spot Hardman late.
Patrick Mahomes sees Hardman wide open, but throws it a little behind.
Hardman adjusts to the pass and this is when he really turns the jets on, obliterating the angle the safety takes on him and cruising in to the endzone for 6 points.
The next play is from the Raiders game. He fakes the corner route and cuts inside on a post.
The fake out results in the safety taking a slight false step towards the outside, which allows Hardman to attack him inside and absolutely annihilate any hope the safety has, due to Hardman’s elite speed.
Now, this next one is nullified by a holding penalty, but it is an absurdly fun play to watch for multiple reasons.
The single high safety sees Travis Kelce charging up the field, then Kelce shows his excellent change of direction and cuts his route short and comes back towards the ball.
The safety quickly realizes his error and tries to recover – but too late.
Hardman is covered one-on-one by a cornerback and the defender simply can’t match the turbo boosters in Hardman’s feet.
Hardman finishes the play showcasing his underrated tracking skills, hauling in the pass and introducing himself to the pay-dirt, truly spectacular.
But wait, the other part of this play that makes it so fun to watch? Check out the second clip.
Mahomes throws an absolute dime as he’s FADING AWAY! He throws the ball with perfect accuracy, 40 yards downfield, with pressure in his face and throwing while leaning backwards.
Is this guy human?
I won’t bore you to death with this part of his game, but I wanted to quickly show one more clip here.
Hardman is the outside receiver on the left side and not only does he completely demolish his coverage at the release, he fools Earl Thomas in to thinking he’s going to take his route to the left side of the hashmarks before veering to the right and getting Thomas completely flipped around. Mahomes doesn’t connect here, but Hardman shows his deep ball prowess yet again.
Drags and Crossing routes
The insane athleticism we saw above is also utilized by Andy Reid via a plethora of crossing and drag routes.
In week 4 against the Detroit Lions, Hardman had a few plays running a crossing route, though both ended in an incompletion.
Here’s the first play, you can see that the corner gives Hardman a few yards of separation pre-snap and Hardman shoots out of the gate at an incredible pace, allowing him to use that gap to his advantage and causing the corner to trail him from the get-go. Unfortunately, Mahomes has to make a Mahomesian throw with pressure in his face, though this one falls incomplete.
On this one, the cornerback decides to cover Hardman at the line of scrimmage without having to worry about the stack formation that was present in the previous play. This allows for the cornerback to try and stay in Hardman’s pocket. Though Hardman does create some separation here, it’s better coverage than the previous play, and Mahomes is late on the throw, resulting in what essentially becomes a throw away.
Now, let’s stay in Detroit and look at a few of the drag routes that Reid dials up for Hardman.
Hardman motions from the left slot receiver position, to the outside receiver position on the right side. This allows for there to be a cushion between the cornerback and Hardman. The ball is snapped and Travis Kelce and Sammy Watkins clear out the middle of the field for Hardman, with his cornerback too far out of the picture to catch up to his speed. If not for a fantastic play by the safety, this may have easily resulted in a touchdown. Essentially, the Colts can’t be tackling like they have been if they have any hope of stopping Hardman’s speed.
This second play from the Lions game is essentially the same concept, with a similar resulting outcome – wherein the safety makes a great break on the ball and brings Hardman down before he can wreak too much havoc post-catch.
Run after catch ability
Now, when a player has the type of speed that Hardman possesses, you want to get the ball in his hands in space as often as you can.
Reid understands this and cooks up screens and swing passes to Hardman as well.
I don’t really need to say much about this play – simply put, Reid knows how to use his talent and Hardman is certainly capable of turning an ordinary play into a spectacular result.
This isn’t a screen pass, but Hardman drifts into the flat here, catches the pass and jukes the first defender for a healthy gain.
In order to stop Hardman from creating big plays, the Colts will have to stay disciplined and bring him to the ground on first contact, rather than allowing him to find the space he needs to make a play.
Here’s an example of a defender doing a fantastic job staying disciplined, using the boundary as an extra defender and making sure Hardman can’t find his way inside.
Unpolished route runner
Obviously, Hardman is a rookie and has work to do in several different departments.
His most glaring weakness may be that he is an inconsistent route runner.
Here, against the Baltimore Ravens, he’s lined up in the slot left and finds himself one-on-one with the cornerback with no safety help.
Hardman is running an out and up route, trying to get the cornerback to bite outside.
However, Hardman doesn’t sell the fake nearly enough and, despite Mahomes making the right throw, he’s completely blanketed by the defender.
Mahomes tries to give Hardman a nice back-shoulder pass, but Hardman isn’t able to adjust and the ball falls to the ground incomplete.
Here’s another example, this time against the Raiders, of Hardman’s need to develop his route running.
Hardman runs a deep out here. He gets inside the cornerback and tries to make a hard cut outside about 10 yards downfield.
Hardman must’ve been in a hurry, because he didn’t sell the fake inside at all and completely rounded out his route at the end of it, allowing himself to drift backwards.
One of the biggest worries with Hardman will be his pre-snap movement, especially with how undisciplined the Colts defense is.
I mentioned that I looked at a few bonus plays from the past few weeks and here they are – plays where Hardman was used as a decoy that resulted in touchdowns for the Chiefs.
On this occasion, Hardman starts by motioning from right to left with his coverage following him.
He then motions back to the right, showing that a potential reverse could be coming.
With the cornerback trailing behind Hardman, the safety occupies the side of the field that Hardman is running to, in anticipation of a potential reverse or throw to the flat.
This allows for Hardman to occupy 2 defenders, one of them being the safety.
Mahomes looks his way, then turns to his left where LeSean McCoy is ready to receive the screen pass.
You can see the result below.
Against the Lions, the Chiefs find themselves one yard away from the endzone.
Hardman is set in the slot to the left, and motions behind Mahomes going right.
His coverage follows him to the far-right side of the field and he also occupies the attention of the linebacker setting the edge and the safety on that side as well, resulting in both players taking a false step towards Hardman and allowing more space for the running back to hammer it in to the endzone.
How can the Colts slow down Hardman? They would have to start performing the tasks that they haven’t been doing through a quarter season of play.
First, with all the pre-snap motion Andy Reid shows, the Colts will need to be disciplined in their assignments.
There’s already a problem here, as the Colts gave up a huge touchdown to Trevor Davis on a reverse last week.
I expect Reid will see this on film and assume that the Colts defense will over-correct on Sunday night by biting hard on a Hardman motion, allowing for the opposite side of the field to be wide open – this will create a back-breaking chunk play.
Another big factor will be the absence of Malik Hooker. Without him available on the back end of the defense, Hardman and Demarcus Robinson will be running free once the Colts defense inevitably bite hard on an intermediate Kelce route.
Hardman has a ton of speed but the Lions safety, Tracy Walker, did a good job of limiting his yards after catch. This will be an important piece that may be possible with the way Khari Willis is playing. If the Colts can at least limit the yards after catch, they may be able to create a handful of stops that could keep them in the game.
Overall, Hardman is an extremely apt Tyreek Hill replacement. He is obviously far from what Tyreek is, but he has the freakish speed that will scare defenses and create space, not just for himself but for his teammates as well.