Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman entered 2021 under an air of uncertainty. After back-to-back seasons of 500-plus yards, how reasonable was it to think the third-year receiver could take another step?
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ favorite targets on the team are tight end Travis Kelce and wide receiver Tyreek Hill — and with the Chiefs saying they wanted to get the runners more involved ahead of the season, how many yards were even available?
But the 23-year-old Hardman did take another step in 2021 — especially as the season wound down and the playoffs began. The Chiefs manufactured touches for Hardman, who is versatile enough to line up wide, in the slot and even in the backfield. Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has continuously praised his upside as a punt returner.
“Mecole did a good job,” said head coach Andy Reid this week. “He continuously got better throughout the year, worked hard, and it paid off for him. We kind of found that groove — as coaches — of what were the things that he did best and [tried] to utilize him in those positions.”
Hardman’s 693 yards on the season was a career-high — and, for perspective, a number higher than any output from Sammy Watkins during his time as a Chief. Hardman is about to enter the final year of his contract, prompting me to recently make him my way-too-early pick for 2022’s most improved player.
257 of his 693 receiving yards on the season coming in the Chiefs’ final five regular-season games. Hardman followed that effort with 14 playoff touches for 176 all-purpose yards, including touchdowns against the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals.
The Chiefs are likely to spend in the free-agent market at receiver this offseason, finally nabbing themselves another big target for Mahomes. But look for Hardman to still play that hybrid role — and, in my opinion, cash in because of it — whether in Kansas City or elsewhere next offseason.