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NY Post
New York Post
22 Jul 2023


NextImg:Jets’ Mecole Hardman wins Quarterback Lottery again with acquisition of Aaron Rodgers

Nobody has ever won the Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot more than once, but Mecole Hardman is a two-time winner of the Quarterback Lottery.

Hardman, 25, spent his first four NFL seasons catching passes from two-time MVP Patrick Mahomes before he left the Chiefs in March to sign a one-year, $4.5 million deal with the Jets in free agency.

Weeks later, when his new team traded for four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, Hardman realized he is on a career path that would make any receiver jealous.

“They’re both Hall of Fame QBs,” Hardman said Saturday, after he closed practice by catching a touchdown pass from Rodgers. “Aaron is just in Year 19 … so the maturity and experience, he’s a level above. He’s seen everything. You can’t trick him. He’s been in every situation.

“That’s just what separates them. But as far as playmaking ability, they are similar. Pat is younger, so he’s more mobile on his feet. But there’s no need to compare them; they’re both great.”

Mecole Hardman Jr. speaks with the media after practice at training camp
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

Hardman is best known for juking, cutting and spinning on the field, but his four-year run in Kansas City, highlighted by three trips to the Super Bowl, tells him that the Jets should run straight toward their big expectations.

He said as much during a team meeting in the spring that made an impression on new teammates.

“Mecole said in Kansas City, as soon as they come in, it’s just like, ‘Championship, championship, championship,’ ” cornerback Michael Carter II said. “I feel like everybody is on board with that.”

Super Bowl-or-bust is a new philosophy for the Jets.

“I was drafted into that … and I’m trying to bring what I got from there over here and let them know the mindset and work that it takes,” Hardman said. “You get a quarterback like A-Rod, and it’s like, ‘Oh, we’re going to the championship.’

“It’s not like that. If anything, it’s more of a target on our back because teams want to get a win against him. Look at it like you have to work harder and give everybody our best shot because everybody is going to give us their best shot.”

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs holds the Vince Lombardi trophy during a welcoming ceremony hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.

Wide receiver Mecole Hardman of the NFL Kansas City Chiefs holds the Vince Lombardi trophy during a welcoming ceremony hosted by U.S. President Joe Biden.
Getty Images

Mecole Hardman has landed with another top quarterback in the league with Aaron Rodgers after playing with Patrick Mahomes.
Mecole Hardman has landed with another top quarterback in the league with Aaron Rodgers after playing with Patrick Mahomes.
Bill Kostroun/New York Post

If one thing is different about his two similar experiences, it could be the way Hardman is utilized in the offense.

His speed-based role on jet sweeps, screens and go balls resulted in 151 catches for 2,088 yards, 20 carries for 125 yards and 18 touchdowns from scrimmage with the Chiefs.

The Jets, however, will ask for more in terms of traditional route running and learning defensive schemes.

“I know I can do those things, but in my last situation I wasn’t required to,” Hardman said. “I was more doing the things that nobody could do. When you have Tyreek Hill for three years and Travis Kelce, they aren’t telling you to do certain things.

“The perception y’all got is, ‘He’s a gadget guy.’ I’m not a gadget guy, but that’s what I’m good at in my role on that team. I don’t want to say I’m motivated to show you all, but it’s more like, ‘He can do that, too?’ ”

One example: Hardman tapped his feet in the back of the end zone on a 20-yard frozen-rope from Rodgers.

“One of the things we talked about with him in free agency is, ‘Embrace your superpower,’ ” head coach Robert Saleh said. “When he has the ball in his hands, it’s elite. His vision is elite, his field presence is elite, his ability to find lanes and gain yards is elite.

“The thing we are committed to is helping him evolve his route running to get him away from being just a high-cross guy and go-ball guy. See if we can help him strengthen the intermediate part of his game … and he’s off to a good start.”

In a receivers room in which Garrett Wilson is the alpha, veterans Corey Davis and Allen Lazard have overlapping strengths as big-bodied targets, and Randall Cobb is Rodgers’ trusted ally, Hardman offers a unique set of skills.

If Rodgers is anything like Mahomes, he will find a way to let Hardman’s speed take over.

“Pat to Aaron, no drop-off,” Hardman said. “It’s kind of hard to go from Pat to a lot of people, but when you go to A-Rod, it’s like, ‘OK, cool.’ ”