While Hardman has been praised for his speed since the 2019 NFL Combine, he believes he’s ready to show he is more than just a speedy return specialist or a deep threat only.
Mecole Hardman has been a shining light ever since Kansas City selected him with the 56th pick in the 2019 draft, and while he has had some fumbling issues in the return game lately, as well as a few big drops this past season, that should not exclude him from more targets next season.
Hardman was originally picked because he brandished a 4.33 sec. 40-yard dash–5th best at the 2019 combine–and also because at the time the Chiefs’ speedy go-to receiver, Tyreek Hill, was being accused of child abuse which caused his future as a Chief to be uncertain, especially with Kareem Hunt’s sudden exit from KC still raw and prevalent in the organization.
In Hardman’s rookie season he showed that his speed was legit, earning him the nickname “the Jet”, finishing with 578 yards from scrimmage on top of his 1,165 all-purpose return yards–the most by a rookie Kansas City return man since Tamarick Vanover in 1995.
While Hardman has speed galore–even posting the fastest time in the 2020 NFL postseason (21.52 MPH) and two of the top ten fastest times of the 2019 NFL season–his fumbling issues, along with the talent above him, have made it harder for Hardman to rise in the Chiefs’ WR depth chart.
But that is about to change, especially with the likely departure of the two receivers standing between him and Hill on the depth chart–Sammy Watkins & Demarcus Robinson–and Hardman seems to be very confident in his skills as a receiver.
Before losing to Tampa Bay in the Super Bowl, Hardman said to reporters that people who don’t respect his route running “make [me] mad”, stating “I literally can run routes very well. People don’t really see it because a lot of my routes are down the field. You’ve got Travis, and Sammy, and Tyreek for all that other stuff…I can really run routes really [well]. I get out of my breaks very well.”
He doubled down on that statement a few days ago on twitter when responding to a tweet:
This goes to show that Hardman believes he is ready to take the responsibility of being WR2 on the depth chart of one of the most dangerous offenses in NFL history, it shows he’s hungry for more and he seems to be willing to try and prove it this upcoming season.
Since his arrival he has been one of the better return specialists in Kansas City history, in fact over his first two years he has more kick return yards (1,200) than Dexter McCluster (1,167) and Tyreek Hill (473) did in theirs and he also averaged more yards/return (14.8) and accumulated more TDs (2) than the prolific Dante Hall (14.6 y/r; 0 TDs) did in his first two years.
As a receiver, Hardman has had his moments of grandeur, like his 63-yard TD against Tennessee where he hit a max speed of 21.87 MPH (according to Next Gen Stats), and slowly-but-surely he has grown into his role as the slot receiver that can break it loose whenever he gets the ball.
In fact, in the slot position, Hardman has seven TDs of 20+ yards in the past two seasons, that’s two more than any other receiver in the entire league (according to PFF).
Hardman has shown that he can perform as a receiver and a gadget player, plus his constant deep threat is a great attribution to an already-deadly Chiefs offense, his only issue is his team-high six drops this season (tied with Tyreek Hill btw) which does not bode well.
His drops are worrisome but his three fumbles (including one in the playoffs) this season was second on the team to Patrick Mahomes (6)–who gets hit with the ball in his hands much more often–and while those fumbles are detrimental to most teams, having Mahomes being #17’s quarterback makes his mistakes a little easier to swallow.
What isn’t easy to swallow is when he drops easy touchdown passes but hopefully with more opportunities at WR2 next season Hardman should be able to make up for mistakes more often, especially with an offensive line that will be stronger and (most likely) younger.
Over Hardman’s two seasons he has 86 catches for 1,193 yards and 11 TDs, he also has 96 rushing yards on 11 attempts (8.7 y/a) and another TD which came in the playoffs and was the definition of a redeeming moment.
Add on the 359 punt return yards, the 1,200 kick return yards, and the two return TDs, and Mecole Hardman has a grand total of 2,848 total yards, 14 TDs, while also showing more promise than almost anyone else on the team (I really like L’Jarius Sneed and Byron Pringle to blow up in ’21-’22 season).
Luckily Hardman will be on his rookie deal for another two seasons (at least) and with Watkins and Robinson likely testing free agency it is up to him to show everyone he can be a solid WR2 and not just a gadget player or return specialist, much like WR1 Hill has shown since he entered the league.