Mecole is a bust
Of all the “lies” being discussed here, this is the one that’s likely going to draw the most ire. By now, most Chiefs fans are already done with Mecole Hardman, and I’m just not convinced that’s fair.
The idea of Mecole Hardman as a bust feels like a lazily applied label to me for a few reasons. And since I’m a list-maker, I’m going to go at this in numerical order.
1. The idea of “boom” or “bust” is problematic in the first place. It removes any ounce of nuance (which, hey, is par for the course in sports but I still push against it), when the truth is that the spectrum is wider here than black or white, in or out, good or bad. If every pick is either a boom/bust, then a player either has to have a long productive career or else the general manager made a mistake and should be taken to task over it. That’s just silly.
The “bust” label should at least only apply to early picks, given the level of expectations, and Hardman certainly fits that as a second-round pick for whom Brett Veach traded up in 2019. But if the likes of Cornell Powell, for instance, never work out, that’s not a bust. It was just a Day 3 pick.
2. The context or circumstances of Hardman’s draft are typically forgotten when discussing his current career. Let’s not overlook the facf that when the Chiefs were on the clock in the 2019 draft, word had just leaked literally hours before that Tyreek Hill was in all kinds of legal trouble. There was something about a “child with a broken arm” and a “worried mother” and the instant judgement calls cast doubt on whether Hill would ever play football again.
In other words, after years of prep to fix their draft boards, Veach and his staff were suddenly hit with the news that they could likely lose their most dynamic offensive weapon, a man whose presence allows the rest of the offensive machine to operate as hoped.
There’s a reason you trade up to get Hardman’s elite speed, return ceiling, and instant acceleration: if you’re getting ready to lose a player with those same traits.
3. Instead of being able to step into a ready-made role like most early picks, Hardman has found for himself a closed door to what he does best at the pro level. That’s why, ever since his arrival, the Chiefs have been manufacturing ways to utilize Hardman’s considerable talents. It’s why he’s scored 10 touchdowns in limited opps over two seasons on offense (along with another two return touchdowns). He’s got the goods and the Chiefs will find ways to let him loose when it makes sense.
Beyond that, however, Hardman has had to climb his way out of his natural role toward more trust from the coaches. Yes, that work is on him, and if anyone has shown the sort of ability to grow as a player, it’s Hill, who has become a marvel at WR1. Hardman has to work on separation and awareness, to be sure, and it’d be frustrating if he wasn’t a considerably better player after this third season with a clear opening for more targets for someone after Sammy Watkins’ exit.
No one would say Hardman is doing what we all pictured, but that’s because we all pictured a very different scenario when he first arrived. It’s also true that Hardman has work to do to grow as a young receiver. But the simple equation of “Hardman = Draft bust” is a lie. It was the glass that Brett Veach had to break in case of an emergency that came up at the time. Yes there were other players, even other receivers, who could have made a better long-term fit, but those needs didn’t feel nearly as pressing in the moment.
And in the present, Hardman deserves some more credit for what he brings to the table.