KC Chiefs: What are realistic expectations for Mecole Hardman’s third season?

MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 13: Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images)
MIAMI GARDENS, FLORIDA - DECEMBER 13: Mecole Hardman #17 of the Kansas City Chiefs in action against the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium on December 13, 2020 in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images) /

Mecole “The Jet” Hardman has all the speed and quickness that offensive coordinators dream about having. Just recently, the Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver scorched a handful of other NFL speedsters in a 40-yard dash reportedly logging a jaw-dropping 4.22 seconds. Outside of Tyreek Hill, his own teammate, there’s a case to be made that he is the fastest wideout in the NFL.

Yet for some reason, Hardman has struggled to produce at the level that local pundits and fans expect him to. He was the Chiefs second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, after all, and the team passed on a number of other needs and players, including superstar wide receiver D.K. Metcalf.

Hardman had a productive rookie campaign and logged 26 catches for 538 yards and 6 touchdowns. That was good for an impressive 20.7 yards per catch. Though his usage increased 58 percent in his sophomore campaign, his total yards increased by only four percent and his yards per reception dropped to 13.7.

What should the Chiefs expect from Mecole Hardman’s third season?

To this point, Hardman has failed to crack the 100-yard mark in a game and that’s left some wondering if he can ever ascend to the role of a true wide receiver two in the NFL. What should the expectations really be for a player like Hardman as he heads into his third season in the league?

The second year for an NFL player is usually one of the toughest. For those who excel in their rookie season, opposing defensive coordinators take special notice in the offseason to ensure they can effectively mitigate them as a threat in the following year.

Hardman wasn’t an All Pro his rookie season, but he made his first Pro Bowl and showed significant promise. It was clear when he caught the ball in space that he had all the talent needed to take it the distance. Especially as part of the Kansas City Chiefs offense, there was an early target on his back.

He struggled with adversity his second season, but now with Sammy Watkins leaving, he will be thrust headlong into the role of the team’s second wide receiver. It could be said he was prevented from growing in part last year because his opportunities were inconsistent. That won’t be true in 2021. I tend to think that Hardman will take a step forward this season, but what type of production is sufficient based on players in similar positions across the league?

The Chiefs finished the 2020 regular season with the highest total passing yards. It’s likely they will be among the top passing offenses in the league again in 2021. It makes sense to take a look at comparable passing offenses’ second most targeted wide receivers for a realistic comparison. For this exercise we’ll evaluate the second most targeted receivers from the Texans, Bills, Buccaneers, Falcons and Chargers, the five teams following the Chiefs in passing yards in 2020:

The Numbers:

  • Will Fuller (Texans) – 75 targets, 53 receptions, 879 yards, 8 touchdowns
  • Cole Beasley (Bills) – 107 targets, 82 receptions, 967 yards, 4 touchdowns
  • Chris Godwin (Bucs) – 84 targets, 65 receptions, 840 yards, 7 touchdowns
  • Russell Gage (Falcons) -109 targets, 72 receptions, 786 yards, 4 touchdowns
  • Mike Williams (Chargers) – 85 targets, 48 receptions, 756 yards, 5 touchdowns

It’s important to note a major aspect of this is that none of the above teams have a tight end who commands the number of targets that Travis Kelce does. Kelce was the Chiefs most targeted player in 2020, and I’d wager he’ll be that again in 2021.

As such, I’ll apply a 10 percent reduction to the resulting averages from the above five players. If it plays out this way a successful season for Mecole Hardman would look something like 83 targets, 58 catches, 761 yards, and 5 touchdowns. I’d go out on a limb and guess these numbers will still be disappointing to most local pundits and fans at first glance, but they’re fairly standard across top passing offenses.

Realistic expectations for Hardman in his third season shouldn’t be 80 catches and 1,000 yards. As it stands his opportunities will increase and a 20 percent increase in production is all he needs to achieve to be amongst the most respectable wide receiver twos in the league.

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