With wide receiver Tyreek Hill heading to Miami this offseason, the 2022 season is a prime opportunity for fellow receiver Mecole Hardman to break out with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Though Hardman was technically a Pro Bowler and second-team All-Pro player as a rookie, he earned those honors as a kick returner. In the years since his rookie season, the Chiefs shifted their focus to getting Hardman going as a pass-catcher and putting his contributions as a returner on the back burner.
Yet with Hill still around and tight end Travis Kelce getting plenty of targets himself, Hardman never got as many targets as most No. 2 receivers. In his three years in the NFL, Hardman has never seen more than 85 targets or 60 receptions. Each year though, he’s been seeing his receptions and yardage increase. The 2021 season presented a career-best year for him, but he still only had 59 catches for 693 yards and just two touchdowns.
Hardman’s lack of production doesn’t really have anything to do with his own performance. When he does get looks, the production comes with it. Hardman cracked the top 30 in yards per target of all players in 2020 and the top 50 in yards per target in 2021. It’s just that Hill and Kelce are two of the best pass-catchers in all of football, so competing for targets with both of them didn’t set Hardman up for success.
Adding to the difficulty of fighting for targets was Hardman’s need to fight for starts and snaps with the rest of Kansas City’s receivers. Hill obviously was locked in as a starter for nearly every game in 2021, but Hardman also lost out on starting opportunities to Demarcus Robinson despite the latter being less productive in six years than Hardman has been in half that time. Robinson also saw the field for significantly more offensive snaps than Hardman in each of the last three years.
For the 2022 season, not only will he not have to compete for starts and playing time the way he did last season, he won’t have to compete with one of the best receivers in the league for targets. Robinson is with the Raiders, Hill is with the Dolphins and Hardman remains in Kansas City as the only receiver with more than eight starts in 2021.
For now, it looks as if Hardman will be a starting receiver for the Chiefs to begin 2022 alongside newcomer JuJu Smith-Schuster. Rookie receiver Skyy Moore could challenge either one of them for snaps depending on how he performs in the offseason and training camp, but Hardman could have more pull to stick as a starter as a returning member of the roster. Smith-Schuster, for what it’s worth, struggled in Pittsburgh when he was thrust into the role of a No. 1 receiver, which could only further boost Hardman’s looks should that trend continue in Kansas City.
Hardman faces less competition for snaps and for targets come the 2022 season which should equal more targets and higher production. Don’t be surprised if this is the season in which Hardman cements himself as the Chiefs’ No. 2 receiver in a big breakout season for the fourth-year receiver.