After showing flashes down the stretch last season, Hardman is on the verge of a breakout season in 2022
@ChiefsFan4Lyfe Chiefs Focus @Chiefsfocus
The Kansas City Chiefs look to get back to the postseason in 2022-23 as they continue to work up at St. Joseph during training camp. The AFC West is tough this season and the Chiefs had to lose their star player in Tyreek Hill but gained some key players added to a revamped Legion of Zoom. Some call Mecole Hardman a Tyreek Hill clone or maybe not but he’s still a dangerous weapon when he’s on the field. Could The Jet have a breakout season and shut up his critics?
Mecole Hardman has a great opportunity in front of him, with Tyreek Hill now in Miami after being traded in May. Some might find it hard for Mecole Hardman to match what Tyreek Hill did in his career with the Chiefs, but Hardman is now the No. 1 receiver for the Chiefs which also increases his motivation to explode during his contract season. As the late great Terez Paylor would say, “The contract year stays undefeated.” Hardman had an impressive third year campaign in 2021, as he finished 2021 with a career-high in 59 catches for career-high 693 yards and only two touchdowns on 83 targets and 8 carries for 46 yards. Hardman will be looking to build on his 2021 performance this season.
Don’t forget that amazing 2019 rookie season where Hardman stepped up into action when both Hill and Sammy Watkins suffered early-season injuries during his rookie season. Hardman’s role in the offense increased significantly. When both Hill and Watkins returned to the starting lineup and Hardman took a backseat, he still
managed to produce. Whether it was breaking off a big play on limited offensive snaps or setting up the Chiefs with great field position on special teams. By season’s end, Hardman was selected for the Mack Lee Hill Award, recognizing the top rookie for Kansas City. He was among the NFL rookie leaders at the receiver position in most statistical categories.
Sometimes versatility pays off. It’s his versatility as a receiver, runner if used as an occasional running back, return specialist like Tyreek, Tyler Lockett, Cordarrelle Patterson, or Deebo Samuel. Hardman is a fast receiver, who also demonstrates great acceleration. In 2022, expect the Chiefs to use Hardman on a lot of bubble screens to get him into space so he could use his speed to pull away from the defense. Partially because of his speed and burst, Hardman is explosive at running after the catch. He is elusive and finds open running lanes to go through. His juke moves are also effective. He even has shown some of the strength to break some tackles if defenders are able to catch up to him.
His route-running has gotten much better over the years. Hardman has the separation at the release to get open over the middle and the play-speed to get yards after the catch. Hardman’s yards per reception in 2019 went from 20.7 to only 11.7 yards in 2021, as he began playing more of a X receiver role. That tells us that even though his role has adjusted from the Z to the X, he’s still out-performed everyone’s expectations in the last 6 games including the playoff games. In those games at Denver, vs the Steelers twice, Bills and the Bengals twice, Hardman had 20 catches for 308 yards for 2 touchdowns in that 6 game stretch. That gave him a 15.4 yards per reception average in that span which is better than his overall season average (11.7). That shows that the Chiefs saw the emergence of Hardman down the stretch and he will be ready to lead that receiver room.
Despite the fact that Smith Schuster and Valdes-Scantling are now on board, however, JuJu, MVS and Hardman do possess very different skill sets, which could become a nice compliment for the Chiefs. With Hardman able to catch passes all over the field due to his speed, quickness and smaller stature, JuJu and MVS’s imposing sizes and strengths will allow Kansas City to stretch the field even further while also giving quarterback Patrick Mahomes three massive targets in the red zone including Travis Kelce. Hardman is also dangerous as a kickoff returner now with the loss of Byron Pringle and if he needs to, return punts unless rookie undrafted rookie free agent from Ole Miss, Jerrion Ealy flashes some Dexter McCluster skills at that role.
Although the Chiefs are still Super Bowl favorites, the road won’t be easy this time around as the Raiders, Chargers and Broncos improved this offseason. If the Chiefs are going to return to the Super Bowl in Arizona, Hardman must aim to tally new single-season career-high marks in just about every major category in addition to surpassing the 1,000 receiving yards mark. And while it remains to be seen how the team will ultimately use him during the regular season, his athleticism and versatility make for an intriguing chess piece for Andy Reid to use. And even though he will not be the second coming of Tyreek Hill, Hardman in my opinion will have a breakout season.
I’m predicting Mecole will finish 2022 with 127 total touches for 1,600+ all-purpose and 10 total touchdowns. He might not get the 1,000 yard mark in 2022 which isn’t a bad thing. His versatility alone shows you can still be WR1 even without the 1,000 yard seasons as long as your team is winning games. He will be used like how Andy Reid, Matt Nagy utilized Tyreek Hill from 2016-2017 before Nagy went to the Bears. Mecole will catch, run and return kicks if asked. Also earning not only a Pro Bowl selection but earning his first All-Pro selection since his rookie season. The Jet has heard all of the negative talk all off-season. He’s coming into 2022 not only to prove himself in front of the stage but help the team get back the Lombardi. One more thing, if Bart Scott is reading this? In the words of your former Defensive Coordinator, Mike Pettine on Hard Knocks (who led your group the Jets to two AFC titles and blew it), “Bart, Shut Up.”
Mecole Hardman Links
Mic’d Up for Week 18 at Denver (2021): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s9bM-hMYefg Mecole owning Bart Scott on First Take: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_i9glR5CFZY Career High 9 catch game vs Bills (2021): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2iw6Zgjqs0 2020 Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0culX9ut1A&t=13s
2019 Highlights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-rlHMmfJM34&t=42s
Mike Pettine tells Bart Scott to Shut Up on Hard Knocks with the Jets (get to the 23 minute:15 seconds clip): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wm-OpgV_9Ag