Time to take my medicine… Before the 2020 season, I said Hardman could be better than Tyreek Hill. While I still believe that could be true, it is looking less and less likely by the day.
His blistering speed and overall athleticism are still freakish, even among NFL players, but his impact in 2020 was not noticeable. Keep in mind that was with Sammy Watkins out for nine games (including the postseason).
To put it bluntly, Hardman was primed to burst onto the scene in 2020 and fell short, and with all the buzz surrounding free-agent wide receivers, it’s hard to see the Chiefs having any faith in his future progression. Let’s get into why the 2021 offseason/season will make or break Mecole Hardman.
Another offseason to prepare
Hardman was an undeveloped talent coming out of Georgia and the Chiefs knew that before they drafted him (hell, he even took some snaps at DB before moving to WR). However, his skills have barely progressed after two full seasons with the team. Some of his routes have improved, but his inability to beat press coverage, be deceptive in his route running, and wall off defenders to protect his positioning have not.
This slow progression is one of the reasons Byron Pringle started seeing more reps than him late into the season. Another offseason with little to no progression will ensure Hardman’s fate as a draft bust. However, a full offseason to train coming off of a Super Bowl loss is plenty of motivation for this extremely talented athlete to put together a career-changing offseason.
With the expected departure of Sammy Watkins, Mecole Hardman will be in prime position to take his targets. Even though he had plenty of chances to replace Watkins this season, replacing Watkins with Hardman in the offense is easier said than done.
Their skill sets are extremely different, which is another reason we saw Pringle take some of the snaps instead of him. As talented as Hardman is, the route running ability of Watkins is what Andy Reid expects out of his position.
If Hardman does not seize this opportunity and increase his workload, or Pringle takes more snaps away from him, he could lose out on the chance of a lifetime. However, if he impressed Andy Reid and the Chiefs staff with his limited opportunities he could see a major increase in his opportunities during the 2021 season.
This offseason will provide us with some useful insight into what the Chiefs believe Hardman can turn into. If a move is made in free agency for a super talented WR, or the Chiefs draft a WR in the early rounds they might believe that Hardman has no future in this offense. If no move is made it could mean they are confident in his progression and plan on using him more. Either way, this upcoming offseason/regular season will prove to be boom or bust for Mecole Hardman.