As part of the Class of 2016, the University of Georgia signed the #1 Athlete and #13 Overall ranked player in the country – Mecole Hardman, Jr. With his second season in Athens approaching, the nation’s former #1 Athlete is still looking for a home in Athens.
Sometimes in recruiting the term athlete can be misleading but it perfectly identified Hardman. In high school, Hardman played quarterback because it was the only way for his team to get the ball in their best players hands on every play. He was never going to play quarterback on the collegiate level and thus, he arrived in Athens as an elite athlete but an incredibly raw football player.
However, when you are a 5-star recruit and the #1 athlete in the nation, the expectation is for you to arrive on campus and make an immediate impact. Lost in the shuffle, trying to define a role in the program, Hardman focused on playing the cornerback position for the first time in his life as a true freshman. A decision questioned by many in retrospect, but a decision that makes sense in many ways.
First and foremost, upon his arrival in Athens, Coach Smart stressed that Georgia needed to get more physical in the trenches and both sides of the ball and faster/more athletic in the secondary. Second, his road to playing time on offense was firmly occupied by the dynamic Isaiah McKenzie. It was logical to give Mecole a chance at cornerback where his athleticism is very enticing. He made progress over the course of the season but with the rock solid Malkom Parrish and the emergence of DeAndre Baker he was unable to break through.
Now, three practices into spring 2017, the experimentation with Hardman is in full swing. He continues to get work at cornerback, kick returner, punt return, gunner and is now adding slot receiver to his workload. The experimentation will likely continue through spring but this summer a decision will be made on his future position and I fully expect that decision to be final.
Where will Hardman make an impact in 2017? I am going on record saying that it will be on offense as a slot receiver playing the role previously occupied by Isaiah McKenzie. With cornerbacks Tray Bishop, William Poole, Ameer Speed, Latavious Brini and Eric Stokes arriving this summer the stars are aligning for the electric Hardman to move to offense and have an opportunity to carve out a role immediately.
I firmly believe that this move is what is best for UGA and could go a long way in determining the level of success for the Bulldogs offense in 2017. The media is largely focused on the development of Jacob Eason and the growth of the offensive line under Sam Pittman as the key factors to as to how much the Bulldogs offense will improve in Smart’s second season at the helm. However, I would argue just as important is finding a player on offense who can consistently stretch the field and take the 8th and 9th defender out of the box. Hardman has that ability.
Hardman is faster than iMac, just as quick, but bigger and runs more powerfully with the ball in his hands. If given one-on-one opportunities in the open field he will show why he was Nation’s #1 athlete in the Class of 2016. He will give the offense a weapon on the perimeter that will not only open running lanes for Chubb and Michel but also open the middle of the field for the Dawgs bevy of talented TEs.
Expectations are high for Hardman entering his second season and he is ready to explode onto the scene and deliver in a big way.