The KC Chiefs invested a second round pick at wide receiver in the 2019 NFL Draft and elected for Mecole Hardman over several top-tier receivers available in that draft class. The fan base’s idea was that the Chiefs would develop Hardman’s route running ability and create another Tyreek Hill. Hardman has electrifying speed and is very capable of taking it the distance every time he touches the ball. That being said, there is a lot of development that’s needed to happen that simply hasn’t.
When Hill burst on to the scene with the Chiefs, many clamored about his big-play ability because he was one of the fastest players to ever play the game. Hardman was immediately compared to Hill because of his sub 4.4 second time in the 40-yard dash, but he has never lived up to that expectation. Instead, Hardman is exactly what most players with his skill set eventually become: A gadget player.
While most scoff at the term “gadget player,” this is not a bad type of player to have on your team. Gadget players can be very effective in the screen game, on jet sweeps, and in the return game. While gadget players are rarely the key cog in the machine, they provide a nice icing to the cake. Tavon Austin is a name universally associated with gadget players. This is not because he was the first, nor because he was the best, but rather because of where he was drafted and the expectations for him coming out of West Virginia.
Austin was electrifying in college causing many to question just how high he would be drafted. The two-time All-American was drafted with the 8th pick overall in the 2013 draft by the Rams. Since then, he has been on two other teams and has since become a free agent. During his time with the Rams, Cowboys, and finally the Packers, it became abundantly clear that he would never live up to the hype that surrounded him. This is essentially what Chiefs fans are experiencing with Hardman on a much smaller scale.
Why Mecole Hardman is a gadget player
Simply put, players with his skill set and size typically are gadget players. Dante Hall, De’Anthony Thomas, and Dexter McCluster have all played in this role with the Kansas City Chiefs. These are guys who were believed to have capability as a receiver, but never developed beyond a gadget player. These players were used in the screen game, on jet sweeps, the return game, and used as an occasional deep threat.
In his short career, Hardman has had a number of big plays and has accounted for over 1,100 yards from scrimmage. Even with those big numbers, his consistent production was lower than one may expect. In fact, in two seasons combined, he was targeted just 11 more times than Sammy Watkins in 2019 in 14 games. In 2019, Watkins missed two games and was the third receiver behind Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill.
If you are a film watcher, it easy to see what Hardman is lacking. Explosive? Yes. Dangerous whenever he touches the ball? For sure. Technically sound in his routes and decision making? Absolutely not. He does a lot of things well, but getting open consistently in his routes is not one of them. Hardman has a slight frame and can get moved around by pressing corners. He also struggles in short and intermediate routes. In two years, it is still unclear whether there will be improvement in those areas. It’s become clear that the Chiefs have been drawing up plays for him specifically to manufacture touches. This is the epitome of a gadget player.