As the Kansas City Chiefs' rookies and quarterbacks report to St. Joseph, MO ahead of 2022 training camp, the team will be without a familiar face when others soon follow suit in their arrivals. Wide receiver Tyreek Hill is no longer in the fold following a March blockbuster trade and in his absence, Kansas City will be tasked with finding new ways to replace his production.
The natural progression from Hill is to look at Mecole Hardman, the Chiefs' 2019 second-round draft pick. Hardman, who possesses blazing speed that was the closest thing to Hill's on the team before his departure and is the next best thing without him, has seemingly lurked in the shadows over the last few seasons and is now entering a pivotal 2022 campaign.
This is the final year of Hardman's rookie contract, so he has every reason to step up and perform at a high level this season. That opportunity could present itself now that Hill is out of the picture, and the 24-year-old knows it. In a recent appearance on ESPN's First Take show, Hardman spoke about how things could open up for him now:
Now, he [Hill] is gone. And if a defense feels like they can come and play man-to-man or stay and 10 yards [away] and think that's cool, I'm going to go right by you. It's as simple as that... I never could show that because I have 'that guy' in front of me, which I had no problem with. I learned from him — I learned everything from him. I wish him the best of luck as well, because he's going to do the same thing at Miami. But I feel like I can take the top off, too. I can do that, too.
In some regards, Hardman's 2021 season was underwhelming. His average yards per reception and touchdown totals were career-low figures, after all. With that said, he flashed legitimate promise near the end of the year and also hauled in a career-best 59 passes for a career-high 693 yards during the regular season. If that progression carries into this season, especially considering the combination of pressure and opportunity, it's within the realm of possibility to expect Hardman's best year to be this one.
Alongside Hardman on the Chiefs' wideout depth chart are three brand new additions to the club. JuJu Smith-Schuster was signed before the Hill trade, then Marquez Valdes-Scantling was brought in a while later to serve as a supplemental piece that boasts legitimate size and speed. General manager Brett Veach also plucked Western Michigan receiver Skyy Moore off the draft board in late April. That quartet of pass-catchers projects to combine to fill most or all of the void left by Hill and then some. Hardman touched on that, as well as why he thinks the Chiefs' offense will be just fine — even without Hill:
For one, we've got the best quarterback in the league. For two, we've got the best tight end in the league. We've got, probably, the best offensive line in the league as well, to my knowledge. I think we're going to be fine. We've got a good group of guys in the receiving corps — myself, JuJu, Marquez, got Skyy, we drafted him. I think we're going to be an overall team, we're going to share the ball around and just go from there.
As the Chiefs finish their preparations for the upcoming season, all eyes are on Hardman to see what he can do without his most prominent running mate. By many accounts, notably his own, that pressure is going to create something special in 2022. With a new set of expectations laid out ahead of him, Hardman is making it perfectly clear that he thinks he can do some of what Hill did, too.