LAS VEGAS — The Kansas City Chiefs’ return to the Super Bowl was bolstered in part by Mecole Hardman’s return to the Chiefs. His speed and big-play ability always has been a welcoming sight, but Hardman brings much more than on-field intangibles. He is beloved by his teammates for the mentality and personality he brings to work every day.
“He brings a different energy to the team,” Chiefs rookie wide receiver Rasheed Rice said. “We know he’s in the room. He’s loud, he talks a lot, he’s always making me laugh, always making me smile. If you’re trying to be serious or maybe you’re stressed about something … he always reminds you and tells you about the simpler things in life.”
After signing a one-year deal with the New York Jets this past offseason, Hardman struggled to find a role in coordinator Nathaniel Hackett’s offense and managed only 28 snaps on offense, with one catch in three targets for six yards in five games before the Jets traded him back to the Chiefs in October – and back to a comfortable environment.
“They drafted me, and I’ve been here for a long time, so they know what type of player I am. … They’re familiar with me and know what I can do,” Hardman said. “Going into a new situation, they’re just trying to figure me out, and that’s what the Jets tried to do … but it didn’t work out the way it was supposed to, and I’m happy to be back.”
After posting a blazing 4.33 seconds in the 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL combine, Hardman understands where his strengths lie and has brought some big-play threat back to a Chiefs offense that hasn’t been the same since the departure of wide receiver Tyreek Hill in March 2022.
“I think, first off, you get that speed, the speed that he has and being able to stretch the defense horizontally and vertically whenever he is on the field, " Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said.
Since his return to the Chiefs lineup in Week 7, it has been about more than the on-field production, and for Mahomes, that continuity can go a long way in big games such as the Super Bowl, coming up at 6:30 p.m. Sunday against the 49ers.
“Being with us the year before and years previous, everybody loved Mecole and the way he brings the energy every single day,” Mahomes said. “I think a lot of times that can be bigger than anything … just having guys in the locker room that want to play hard, that want to come together and go for this common goal and it’s always great to get those guys in there.”
In his first four seasons with the Chiefs, Hardman hauled in 152 catches for 2,094 yards and 16 touchdowns, proving to be a reliable slot target for Mahomes as well as a natural role model in the locker room for younger players trying to craft a role in coach Andy Reid’s offense.
“He’s got good chemistry with Pat, really the same connection, and he kind of understands what Pat likes, what coach Reid likes, and helps our young guys and gets our new guys involved that were kind of learning on the run or learning on the go how we do things,” Chiefs wide receiver coach Connor Embree said.
Hardman credits his Georgia Bulldogs upbringing in coach Kirby Smart’s system as a bridge to understanding the nuances that the jump to the NFL can bring for young wide receivers.
“Coach Smart knows how to prepare your mindset, and with playing in the SEC, it’ll definitely prepare you the right way,” Hardman said. “I think you get better all-around with knowledge for the game, understanding coverages, understanding how to get open, so I think that’s the biggest difference (in the NFL).”
For former Bulldog and current Chiefs defensive end Malik Herring, the addition of Hardman has been particularly special. That stems from a connection that started about a decade ago during the years of rising up the Georgia high school football ranks as four- and five-star recruits at Elbert County High School in Elberton and Mary Persons High in Forsyth, respectively, before transitioning to teammates at the University of Georgia.
“It means a lot to get Mecole back,” Herring said. “I’ve been knowing Mecole since the 10th grade, so we go way back … just like having one of my brothers back in the building. Man, wish we had some more Georgia guys in here so we can get more of that family effect.”