ATHENS — Kansas City selected Georgia receiver/return man Mecole Hardman Jr. in the second round with the 56th overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft in Nashville on Friday.
Hardman’s transition from high school quarterback, to freshman cornerback and now these past two seasons at receiver, has been an impressive work in progress.
That process figures to be put on fast forward as Hardman appears to be an immediate replacement for Chiefs All-Pro receiver Tyreek Hill.
Kansas City traded up with the Los Angeles Rams on draft night for the pick to get Hardman for obvious reasons.
Hill, who had 87 catches for 1,479 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns, has been suspended indefinitely by Kansas City pending a police investigation into a domestic violence case.
Hardman, like Hill, has blazing speed and tremendous open-field running ability.
The Chiefs recognized what Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart and most other teams know — Hardman only figures to get better and better with more experience at the receiver position.
“He has been elite from a special teams standpoint, and I still think he has great upside at the wide receiver position, so he’s a guy that’s going to flourish when he gets to that level,” Smart said. “I’m looking forward to seeing him do it, because he’s grown as a player for us, but he hasn’t even reached his full potential.”
Hardman had five touchdowns through Georgia’s first four games of the 2018 season before defenses and special teams adjusted, realizing the best option was to keep the ball out of his hands.
No doubt, Hardman averaged 20.1 yards on 16 punt returns in 2018 and 26.2 yards on kick returns, also finishing with 34 catches for 532 yards and seven touchdowns.
Hardman erased most all remaining doubts at the NFL combine, clocking the 4.33-second time in the 40-yard dash, and leaping 36.5 inches in the vertical jump.
“They see the potential,” said Hardman, who hails from Elbert County High School in northeast Georgia. “They’ve seen two years of film, combine and pro day. They see that I can play.”
The 5-foot-10, 187-pound Hardman isn’t shy about his abilities, to the extent of lobbying Pittsburgh to ‘be that guy’ to replace NFL star Antonio Brown in the Steelers lineup.
It had to be a gut punt for Smart when Hardman informed him after the Sugar Bowl that he was forgoing his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
But that hasn’t stopped Smart from being an advocate for his player, as he was quick to remind all scouts that Hardman is by no means a finished product.
“I usually bring it up pretty quick, to me it’s an important thing to understand that here’s a guy that only caught snaps in high school (as a QB), then only caught interceptions as a freshman (as a DB) and then he spends two years catching the ball and he’s done a really good job doing that,” Smart said.
“Especially in his pro days and his workouts,” Smart said. “That’s kinda the only thing that people could try to knock Mecole on (previously).
“He’s fast, he’s elusive, he’s a great returner, well what about his hands? Well all he’s done is catch every ball thrown to him for the last two months, and I’m excited to see what he does.”
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