Entering his third NFL season, Mecole Hardman has seemingly been given the reins as the No. 2 receiver in the most potent offense in the NFL, and the Kansas City Chiefs should be worried.
Following the departure of the glass skeleton that is Sammy Watkins, many believed general manager Brett Veach would search for the Watkins replacement, either via the draft or free agency. With superstar Patrick Mahomes under center, it seemed necessary to replace the talented receiver with another proven veteran to ensure the $500 million-dollar man continued to have the most dangerous weapons possible at his disposal.
Having Tyreek Hill running vertical routes at 4.2 speed with Kelce roaming the middle of the field is unfair in its own right, but having a reliable third option has made watching Kansas City’s offense look like it’s running at NASCAR speed. That’s what Watkins helped provide the past three seasons – along with weekly visits to the big blue injury tent.
The latter led Watkins to leave Kansas City and sign with the Baltimore Ravens, where he is again on the injury report with an undisclosed injury. When healthy, though, the Chiefs’ offense was clearly more potent with him on the field. While Watkins may not have won a fantasy league trophy for anyone, his ability to create separation and win one-on-one matchups was exactly why the Chiefs overpaid for him in the first place. Just gander at his 2019 stats in the postseason. Without Watkins, we may still be waiting for that first Super Bowl victory since Lenny Dawson quarterbacked the red and gold. The push for Mahomes to inhale a few lung darts during halftime of every game may have become a reality.
With Watkins now gone, Veach needed to fill that void on the roster. However, instead of looking for proven talent and production, they simply handed the keys over to… Mecole Hardman?
Yes, that Mecole Hardman. The Mecole Hardman who replaced Watkins on the depth chart during the six games he was injured last year, producing a robust stat line of, *checks notes*, one single touchdown while averaging just over two receptions per game. Not exactly the proven production Chiefs fans were clamoring for. Instead, they were hoping for something useful and productive, like a Toyota Camry, but instead opened the garage this preseason to find a 2003 Saturn Ion your dad still owns because it “gets him from A to B?”
The Hardman discourse isn’t new to anyone following along on Twitter during games. The frustration over his lack of development is not sparse among the fan base, and that frustration does not reside solely with the Arrowhead faithful. This preseason alone, Mahomes has been visibly upset with Hardman on multiple occasions. These outbursts of “what the hell are you doing?” moments have been captured a few times by the cameras, mostly due to simple route running mistakes — the type of mental errors rarely seen from the dependable Watkins.
So why the angst with a young receiver still trying to harness the finer details required to become a productive NFL receiver? Just like everything with Kansas City, it all starts and stops with the phenom quarterback. Mahomes carries just a $7 million cap hit this season, the last year of his rookie contract. Next season the Brinks truck officially backs into Arrowhead, bringing his cap hit to $35 million. 2022 begins the era of needing to find cheap talent to surround Mahomes with, players such as Hardman. But this isn’t 2022. The Chiefs have one more year of rostering the most valuable commodity the NFL has to offer: a QB on his rookie contract.
This is not the time for Veach and Reid to stand pat, holding onto the remaining $8 million cap space the Chiefs still have for this year. Could they surprise us with an in-season trade for a proven veteran? Possibly. But as the roster sits now, it’s difficult to see why Hardman is being handed the keys to such a pivotal role in the offense.
When designing offenses, Andy Reid is a mechanical wizard, but his garage looks out of place with a 2003 Saturn Ion mixed in with his Lamborghinis.