Although “gadget player” seems like a slight, it isn’t. In fact, having a player like Hardman can add a completely new dimension to an already talented offense. This is what he currently does for the top-tier Kansas City offense. Hardman is arguably the best at this position in the NFL. Perhaps this was the plan all along.
Hardman’s first two seasons:
- 67 receptions on 103 targets
- 1,098 receiving yards
- 10 receiving touchdowns
- 8 carries for 48 yards rushing
Austin’s first two seasons:
- 71 receptions on 113 targets
- 660 receiving yards
- 4 receiving touchdowns
- 45 carries for 373 yards
- 3 rushing touchdowns
Dante Hall’s first two seasons (as a main part of the offense):
- 60 receptions on 90 targets
- 745 receiving yards
- 4 receiving touchdowns
- 27 carries for 127 yards rushing
As you can see, Hardman can produce all kinds of yards when given the space. Austin was utilized as a cog in the 8-8 machine in St. Louis when he started and was targeted 10 more times than Mecole Hardman. Austin put up over 400 fewer yards and six fewer touchdowns. The Chiefs have not utilized Hardman as a runner in the same way that Tavon Austin was with the Rams.
Chiefs legend Dante Hall was turned into a gadget player due to his big play ability in the returning game. By only viewing their stats, you may be led to believe that Hall was less of a “big play” receiver and more built to catch the ball in the middle of the field for 5-10 yard gains. Anyone who knows about Hall’s career knows that he was incredibly explosive because of his lightning quickness. He could make an entire defense look silly. Hardman is only in his second year in the offense and is outpacing Hall’s offensive production by a wide margin.
Hardman’s ceiling and future
Truly, there is no better offense for a wide receiver to shine in than K.C.’s offense led by Patrick Mahomes. For Hardman, having the chance to make big plays as a gadget player may be all he is ever used for. This is great for Kansas City. Having a threat to take it all the way on every touch on an offense that already features Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and Clyde Edwards-Helaire makes the Chiefs dangerous. However, the question still remains: Can Mecole Hardman develop into a true No. 2 receiver?
The evidence tells us that it is no longer the expectation that Hardman will be taking that role. Whether it be the reports that Kansas City was “in” on Juju Smith-Schuster, Hardman’s limited role despite injuries, or the overall sentiment that the Chiefs need another receiver, it appears that the Chiefs are not thrilled with Hardman’s overall development.
Hardman’s route running is undoubtedly better than when he started as a rookie, but it’s also not where it needs to be if he is expected to ever be a top receiver on the team. It seems likely that Hardman is capable of more growth in the coming season or two. Unfortunately, it appears that his ceiling is not as high as once believed.
Hardman is a top gadget player in the NFL and that is great for Kansas City’s offense. It just doesn’t appear that he will be much more than that. All in all, Hardman is essentially Tavon Austin—just drafted where Austin should have been.