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Reassessing the best use of Mecole Hardman in 2022

With more opportunity than ever the Chiefs wide receiver is having a dreadful start to the season

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman might be one of the most polarizing players on the team over the past few years.

Some Chiefs fans look at where he was drafted and the players who were drafted after him (D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin) and declare him a bust. Another portion of the fan base has spent the last four years calling for his breakout season.

Like many things in life, the truth is somewhere in the middle. Hardman has not achieved what his athletic profile dictates, but he’s undoubtedly been a valuable asset to the Chiefs. One thing I like to always bring up when it comes to Hardman is that the Chiefs probably never draft him if not for the Tyreek Hill audio file released on draft night. There is little doubt now that the selection of Hardman was largely dependent on surviving on the field without Hill.

Now that life without Hill is a reality, the expectations for Hardman are through the roof.

Having both players in the same offense always felt a little redundant, even though their skill sets do vary. With the path clear for Hardman as the premier speed threat in the offense, many expected to see his numbers and role increase dramatically. Instead, he’s having his worst start to a season since he’s been drafted.

With just 71 yds and a touchdown in four games, the results are not encouraging thus far. And there’s even more reason to be pessimistic about his future:

As Hardman heads into a “contract year,” the Chiefs have a decision to make on his future in Kansas City. Will they extend him and keep him in Kansas City long-term? Or is he the next receiver to walk away from the Chiefs in free agency?

Currently, the only receivers set for the 2023 roster are Skyy Moore and Marquez Valdes-Scantling. It would make some sense for the Chiefs to bring back Hardman for the sake of consistency and familiarity with the scheme. However, the usage of Valdes-Scantling and Moore suggests the Chiefs are preparing for life without him.

While there certainly have been some struggles over the years with Hardman, there is still a lot of value for him in 2022. Hardman seems to be most successful in games in which the Chiefs rely on him as a playmaker and less as a true pass-catcher. The first thing that could increase Hardman’s value is having him back to return punts. There has been some frustration with Moore’s punt fielding, and Hardman’s speed brings a threat to the return game the Chiefs currently do not have.

Hardman’s best games as a Chief typically all involve one thing: yards after the catch.

In the current version of the offense, Hardman needs to thrive off yards after the catch to punish teams that continue to send two safeties 10 yards back of the line of scrimmage.

Likewise, continued involvement in the running and screen game makes his shortcomings as a receiver less problematic. Many thought Hardman would take over the Hill role in 2022 by stretching the field vertically. But that role has been predominantly given to Valdes-Scantling. With someone as great as Hill, it will take more than one player to replace his value. The line of scrimmage is where Hardman best stands to make an impact for Kansas City.

The bottom line

Though the beginning of the season has been rough for the former Georgia Bulldog, the future is still bright for him in Kansas City. Considering how successful the offense has been in the first four games, there’s still room for growth by involving Hardman.

Even as Moore’s role grows, Hardman can still be an impact player for the Chiefs. As the usage for Hardman develops this season, look for a larger impact from him on the field.

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