On Sunday, Sammy Watkins suffered yet another gruesome injury. He is reportedly going to miss a good chunk of time, “possibly a couple weeks,” per ESPN’s Adam Schefter. Unfortunately, Watkins has long been an injury prone player, dating back to his rookie deal with the Buffalo Bills. That is part of the reason as to why the Kansas City Chiefs worked to get him to take a pay cut. This opens the door for a certain wide receiver to get rolling, in Mecole Hardman.
Hardman was a player who many believed would breakout in 2020. While there have been some strong moments, his role has not grown as flourishingly as most believed. Some of that may be due to a lack of off-season/preseason activities. In addition, learning the wide receiver position in Andy Reid‘s offense can take time to master.
To begin 2020, the sophomore wideout has hauled in 14 receptions on 17 targets for 194 receiving yards and two touchdowns. Hardman has registered a snap percentage over 50 only twice in the first five games. And now is the time for the Chiefs to make him a priority. Today, we will look into how Hardman is ready for the opportunity, based off of his strengths, role in the offense and more.
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Coming out of Georgia, the only real huge knock on Mecole Hardman, was his lack of functional strength. The ability to pluck almost any throw out of the air stood out, especially on balls away from his body or in traffic. Gradually, there has been a growing comfort when running routes over the middle of the field and fighting for contested catches. For the Bulldogs, Hardman was used extensively in pushing down the field vertically. With his ability to attack upfield, Jake Fromm had a lot of trust when targeting Hardman. Obviously, his speed and short area quickness was a natural gift. Though above all, Mecole’s ability to bait defenders and progressive route running seemed to be underappreciated when coming out.
Fast forward to his Chiefs tenure so far, and we have seen a lot of those abilities remain constant or grow when given a chance. Watching the chemistry that he and Patrick Mahomes have so far, there is a much more constructive connection already in 2020. It appears that Mecole Hardman is also the true deep threat of the Kansas City offensive attack. While Tyreek Hill has rounded into a much more complete receiver over time, the naturalness that the Georgia product provides on deep shots is undeniable.
Finding The Groove
Piggybacking off of that last thought, Mecole Hardman has truly been the more flashy Chiefs receivers in terms of yardage. Hill can certainly create long plays after the catch. Nonetheless, Hardman’s results from 2019 painted a different picture.
His 20.7 yards per reception in 2019 was the highest average for any receiver that finished with a minimum of 25 receptions. And like this current point in time, Hardman really started to find his groove when an injury occurred last season. With Hill out for a month due to a shoulder/collarbone injury, Hardman generated 61.5 percent of his overall production for the season during that timeframe. And while his stats lessened in the back half of the season, the Chiefs still increased his usage on the offense. So despite not receiving the ball, Mecole Hardman had carved out a role that garnered heavy trust from Reid and the coaching staff. As a result, his special teams snaps decreased as well.
Once again, Hardman is back in the exact same spot, because of an injury. And in a copycat league like the NFL, defenses have been noticing what the Patriots and Raiders have done the last two games to give Kansas City fits. If frustration continues to come for Hill and Travis Kelce, Mahomes must trust in Hardman to take the reigns.
For the receiver who garners a nickname like “The Jet”, Mecole Hardman has a rather intriguing set of opponents to fly pass. Both of the next two games present veteran secondary’s, who have played together for a long time. Buffalo’s trio of Tre’Davious White, Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde play versatile, ball hawking roles. Opponents have to be aware of the unique and subtle wrinkles that they use to throw at receivers. In the following week, a tough and physical tandem of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson will make Hardman earn those tough catches over the middle, or force him to make quick decisions as a ball carrier. If Mecole can build upon what we saw last season, he can attempt to stake his claim for the future, while keeping the Chiefs offense afloat.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Kansas City Chiefs articles throughout this week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.