On the Monday mailbag edition of the AP Laboratory podcast, we addressed the things Mecole Hardman must to work on in order to become a more reliable third wide receiver. This comes on the heels of Adam Teicher’s report that the Chiefs could potentially bring Sammy Watkins back — essentially an indictment against Hardman’s future role.
Even if the Chiefs bring Watkins in for 2021, I don’t personally believe that Hardman will be more than a third wide receiver. But what does he need to do to earn more opportunities in the offense? Despite his quotes in Teicher’s article, I believe he needs to grow and develop his route tree. Can Hardman run every route? Sure. To great success? Not to this point in his career.
Patrick Mahomes hasn’t entrusted Hardman with targets in structure very often. He hasn’t trusted him to get open — or really done much in the way of even looking at him. That’s a problem with regard to Hardman’s development — not in any way, shape or form a critique of Mahomes. Hardman simply hasn’t been earned his quarterback’s trust.
In his first-15 game scripts, Andy Reid has prioritized manufactured touches for Hardman. But when it’s time to run the offense for the rest of the game, Hardman largely goes unnoticed. In the Super Bowl, he wasted a few opportunities. He wasn’t on the same page with Mahomes — and may have pulled up too quickly on one early throw.
The alarming thing for Hardman, however, is that he was less of a factor down the field this past season than he was in in 2019. The explosive plays weren’t as big of a factor — he didn’t have a catch over 50 yards the entire season — and his touchdown production dipped. In essence, Hardman’s high-variance nature caught up to him. If he’s not making explosive plays, his ability to work within the offenses diminishes — as evidenced by his 7-yard dip in yards per catch.
Even if it’s just a few routes that work off the vertical plane, Hardman must build from his speed so he can threaten down the field. He could develop a speed out — which we saw a few times in 2020 — or a curl. Those could help him get more involved. Hardman has the speed, but he also has hip tightness that limits his ability to make sharp breaks — thereby reducing his ability to develop a full route tree.
If can do these things, it’s likely his role still won’t expand much beyond being the third wideout — and that’s okay. The team needs that. But I could see the Chiefs aggressively adding in free agency and the draft to limit his opportunities beyond that.
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