The preseason brings with it a sense of joy, nervousness, and hopeful expectations for teams and players alike. Questions pop into fans’ heads, for example, Will this guy finally show up in his third year? Will this rookie be any good? What kind of team will this be if these guys don’t gel?
No team has more questions like this than the Kansas City Chiefs. Coming off of three straight AFC Championship games and two straight Super Bowl appearances, Kansas City is the team to beat in the AFC and possibly the entire NFL. Now that the preseason is underway, what about these last two weeks of play has given rise to more questions or has silenced the doubters?
The story of the Chiefs preseason so far has been the wide receiver play behind Tyreek Hill. Who will emerge as a dependable No. 2 option?
Following Sammy Watkins‘ departure in free agency, the Chiefs spent much of the offseason with a considerable hole left behind Hill. Watkins wasn’t much to write home about during his three years in Kansas City. He only had 1,613 yards and eight touchdowns, but despite his shortcomings, Watkins was a dependable blocker and could provide a spark of offensive production when needed (think Week 1, 2019 against the Jacksonville Jaguars when he exploded for 198 yards and three touchdowns).
With Watkins in Baltimore and no signings made by the Chiefs at wide receiver this offseason, the team has looked internally to find Hill’s right-hand-man. They boast plenty of No. 2-quality wide receivers, but few have enough playing time to prove that they’re ready.
One of the first to jump off the page is Mecole Hardman. A Pro Bowl kick returner his first year in the league, Hardman has posted 500-plus receiving yards each of his first two seasons. Nonetheless, he has sat behind Hill, Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson on the depth chart early on in his career.
Thus far in the preseason, Hardman had 4-catches on 8-targets for 39 yards to go with one shoelace touchdown against Arizona, resulting in a slightly underachieving second preseason game for the 3-year wideout.
Along with Hardman, Byron Pringle has shown promise and now is in the mix to be Hill’s running mate. Although he only has 330 receiving yards for his career, he seems to have captured the hearts of Chiefs faithful after his preseason performance against the Arizona Cardinals.
Pringle had 4 catches on 5 targets for 63-yards. Given that most Chiefs fans view Hardman as a wideout who can’t hold onto the ball and has yet to get on the same page with Patrick Mahomes, any player who demonstrated a show of consistency would become the fan-favorite opposite Hill.
He seems to have the hot hand and the support of the fan base, but Hardman ultimately may make the race for No. 2 more competitive than most fans give him credit for, given his past production and equally game-breaking speed opposite Hill.
Of course, there are other candidates for No. 2. Demarcus Robinson, currently listed fourth on the Chiefs WR depth chart, has a chance to prove himself as he enters his sixth NFL season. Granted, Robinson didn’t post a stat in his first season with most of his snaps coming in the return game, so it feels like a now or never moment for Robinson. With two more seasons under his belt than the next likely No. 2 in Hardman, Robinson has only posted 317 more receiving yards.
Time will tell who breaks away and delivers the level of consistency and dependability that Kansas City fans have come to expect from their No. 2 wide receivers. It wasn’t Jeremy Maclin years ago, and it certainly wasn’t Sammy Watkins.
There continues to be a level of worry that many fans and media alike seem to underscore. Without a dependable No. 2, will this offense even be able to get off the ground? Considering most teams can contain either Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce, who will provide offensive output if one of them is a non-factor? Or worse: If one of them gets hurt?
Sure, the Chiefs have been blessed with relatively healthy seasons thus far from Hill and Kelce. However, should one of them get hurt and miss considerable time, Kansas City will have more to worry about than returning to the Super Bowl; they may struggle to make the playoffs. If this team wants to reach a third Super Bowl, then the No. 2 wide receiver should be the No. 1 priority right now.