Coming into his third season, Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman knew his role had to expand. Hardman was third in receiving yards in 2020 with 560, but with Sammy Watkins signing with the Baltimore Ravens in the offseason, he would need to become an even more significant part of the offense.
At this point of the season — through 14 games — Hardman has a career-high in catches, a 6% increase in his catch percentage and is only 65 yards shy of his career-high in receiving yards with four games to go.
“I'm more comfortable with the playbook, more comfortable being on the field," said Hardman, as he reflected on the 2021 season to date. "So as a grade? Probably like, a little B-minus right now; it's definitely up."
Even if the raw numbers are up, some numbers are down — and most notably his receiving yards per reception. Opposing defenses have been taking away the big-yardage production from the Chiefs all season. Hardman's played a season-low nine offensive snaps against the Denver Broncos in Week 13.
"Definitely got some more proving to do, getting better every week," said Hardman, critiquing his own performance so far this year. "So just take what I know what I'm learning from these guys and just apply it on the field, and eventually, hopefully, everything starts to click and just get better as time goes."
What makes Hardman unique — as other players in his circumstances might become a distraction — is that he says he simply wants to do what's best for the team, even if it means limited on-field opportunities.
"He's still getting touches," said head coach Andy Reid when asked about Hardman's positive attitude. "He knows he's a part of the game plan. Not always that the ball is coming his direction, but he's handled it well. He's continued to work hard, and I think just mature over the time here. I like the direction that he's going in."
Hardman agreed with the head coach.
"You got to keep a good attitude, positive energy," Hardman said. "Because you try bad energy, bad vibes — just don't wear right with the whole team or the coaches in general. So you just want to keep a head up, just do what you got to do, keep the good energy, good vibes and everything work out like it's supposed to."
It's not just the good attitude or positive energy that has made the difference for Hardman; it's also his ability to remain a sponge. Hardman is happy he's been able to learn from the best, in Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, during his initial three years in the league.
"I mean, it's definitely a problem when you got the best receiver in the league in front of you," joked Hardman when asked about so much pass-catching talent ahead of him. "But to me, I just take it as a learning thing. Just learn from Tyreek, learn from Trav, learn from Sammy while he was here. So just learn from those guys.
"Eventually, if the time do come one of those guys and step into that kind of role, I kind of know what's going on and know what to do and what it takes to be in that role. But I don't mind. I learned a lot from Tyreek from the guy that's been ahead of me that's been here. So while they're here, I'm going to learn, do what I need to do and do the best I can."
In Sunday's decisive win over the Raiders, Hardman was able to break away for a big play, and that had been missing throughout the 2021 season. Hardman's ability to be a big-time threat to break any play into a touchdown is something defenses have to account for as the Chiefs get ready for another postseason run.
Hardman knows his ability can swing games, as it has in the previous two seasons, and he summed it all up perfectly.
"We're winning games, so I got nothing to complain about. Whenever my number is called, go out there and do what I need to do and just play my role, and whatever that role is, I'm going to play it to the best of my ability."