Chiefs’ top draft pick Mecole Hardman impresses coach Andy Reid at rookie minicamp

The first time Mecole Hardman ran a 20-yard dagger route during the Chiefs’ rookie minicamp, it wasn’t pretty.

The former Georgia receiver had the speed, but the nuance of the route wasn’t quite there.

“I mean, brutal,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said of that first route, standing in the bright sun after Monday’s final practice.

But Hardman ran it again. And again. And little by little, the route-running started to improve.

“Every time he did it, it got better,” Reid said. “That was with most of the routes he ran. That’s what I’m looking for.”

The Chiefs’ first draft pick, the one they traded up five spots to nab with the No. 56 overall selection, didn’t arrive to the NFL as a fully formed Tyreek Hill clone.

And that’s OK.

“I feel like I’m myself, you know? I’m Mecole Hardman,” the rookie said Saturday. “I think I can do things that I want to do, and we’re just going to leave it at that.”

The most important thing that Hardman showed Reid during his first days in Kansas City was a malleability that resulted in improvements, ones already evident throughout the three-day minicamp.

On Saturday, he dropped a couple of punts in individual return drills along with a couple of catches off easy throws. But by Monday, he was fielding punts cleanly and making difficult, leaping catches just over the goal line during red-zone drills.

“Every day he got a little better,” Reid said. “These are all new. These routes are new to him. He did a nice job in the red zone, which normally is the toughest place to work, but he did extremely well there. He had a good finish.”

With Hill’s future up in the air, Hardman is an important piece in both the return game and as a receiver. He showed bursts of speed in special teams drills toward the end of Monday’s practice, cutting around gunners to get to the sideline after fielding a punt, then cutting back inside to elude more would-be tacklers.

To digest Reid’s complex playbook, Hardman tried his best to simplify the plays.

“The quicker you can learn, the quicker you can play,” Hardman said. “The more you can play, the more confident you play. So, it was fun being out there with the coaches learning the playbook. It’s coming easy right now, hopefully I can get it down to where I can play fast and confident.”

It helps that Hardman can learn the routes and plays from wide receivers coach Greg Lewis, who spent eight years in the league as receiver — six of them with Reid’s Eagles teams — before beginning his coaching career.

“Greg played in the National Football League and in this offense, so he’s got experience,” Reid said. “How valuable is that? That’s a phenomenal thing to have in position if you’re a wide receiver for a guy to come in here and go I know exactly how this works. ‘I know the timing of the quarterback to you, I know exactly how you’re going to set this route up to be beneficial for the offense.’”

Before Hardman ever ran a route in Reid’s offense, he went through it slowly during morning walk-throughs. From there, he started running through it, eventually picking up the pace to something close to game speed during practice.

“You talk to them about breaks and walk them through exactly how you do the break,” Reid said. “Then you get out and you practice.”

Working with the first-team offense, Hardman primarily caught passes from Chase Litton, who spent the previous season on the Chiefs’ practice squad.

Soon, Hardman will add even more routes to his repertoire. He’ll return to Kansas City in a week to start working with quarterback Patrick Mahomes at the Chiefs’ OTAs and June minicamp.

“Any receiver would be happy to be with him,” Hardman said. “He’s a great quarterback. Hopefully we can get some good chemistry together and hopefully he can throw me open, throw me some routes, and we just keep that thing going.”

Injury at final practice

The Chiefs’ final drill of rookie minicamp ended a few minutes early when cornerback Justin Martin, a tryout invitee, went down in a non-contact injury to his right knee. Martin screamed in pain and was carted off the field.

A Tennessee product, Martin entered the NFL in 2018 and was a teammate of Chiefs 2018 sixth-round pick Kahlil McKenzie.

Chiefs waive three

The Chiefs waived three players Monday, according to the NFL’s transactions report: WR Josh Crockett, DT Henry Mondeaux and RB Aaron Ripkowski.

The Chiefs also signed 16 of their undrafted free agents and put Old Dominion DE Tim Ward on the reserve/non-football injury list. Ward, who is recovering from ACL surgery, will not count against the team’s 90-man offseason roster.

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Brooke Pryor covers the Kansas City Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, where she works to give readers a deeper understanding of the franchise and the NFL through daily stories, game coverage, and player profiles. She attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and grew up in Winston-Salem, N.C.