Mecole Hardman, WR
Before I get started on this one, let me say that I really like Hardman and I’m glad he’s on the Chiefs roster. Like with Noah Gray, my concerns with expectations for Hardman this season have less to do with his talent and more to do with the role I see him playing in the offense. It’s the reason that I said I wouldn’t be drafting Hardman in fantasy football this season in my recent piece on what Chiefs players you should target in fantasy this season.
Here’s the deal. I believe that Hardman is the second most talented receiver on the team behind Tyreek Hill. I also believe that there is a good chance he’ll be second on the team in receptions for wide receivers this season. So then why am I down on a breakout season for Hardman? The short answer is I just don’t see him being enough of an every down player to have a true “breakout” season.
I understand that the great Nate Taylor reported that Hardman was expected to fill the void left by Sammy Watkins leaving in free agency and I don’t dispute that report at all. However, I think a lot of people are taking that to mean that Hardman will now be the starting wide receiver opposite Hill when there are two wideouts on the field. Here’s the problem with that.
For his entire coaching career Andy Reid has used a traditional “X receiver”. Without getting too far into the weeds here, in very simple terms, that receiver is a larger receiver that lines up on the line of scrimmage on the outside. They don’t go in motion near as much, they are typically bigger because they line up closer to the corner and have to be comfortable physically beating the jam at the line, and they are usually counted on to block down the field on running plays. That isn’t Mecole Hardman.
Hardman is a better fit for a slot role or even Tyreek Hill’s spot on the opposite side. So when I hear Taylor report that K.C. expects Hardman to fill Watkins’ shoes, I see that as more of a “we need you to step up and make more big plays” type of thing than I do a “you are playing his exact spot in the offense” type of thing. I expect that the outside X spot will be filled by some combo of Demarcus Robinson, Byron Pringle, and Cornell Powell who are all better physically suited to play that role.
Even if Hardman is asked to play a bigger role, the fact that pretty much any time the Chiefs use two tight ends or two running backs he won’t be on the field limits just how big of a role he can play. I hope I’m wrong and that he looks so good that he forces Reid to find more and more ways to keep him on the field, but what I’m expecting is for him to continue to fill the same role he has the last two seasons with maybe just a couple more touches each week. If Hardman does break out and become a true big time weapon to go along with Hill and Kelce it would make this offense almost unstoppable.
Finally, my biggest concern that I am hoping the Chiefs prove me wrong on.