Critical year looms for Mecole Hardman

In 2019, with real questions swirling about the short- and long-term availability of receiver Tyreek Hill, the Chiefs devoted a second-round pick to receiver Mecole Hardman, a player with similar size and speed and (so the Chiefs hoped) skills as Hill. Through two NFL seasons, Hardman has yet to flourish.

His chance arrives in his third NFL season. With Sammy Watkins gone, several receivers will be vying for reps at the starting spot across from Hill.

Other candidates for Watkins’ starting job include veterans Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson. Newcomer Antonio Callaway, who has plenty of talent but who never has fulfilled his NFL potential, is an intriguing option.

Nate Taylor of TheAthletic.com recently noted that Hardman has made “sizable improvements” in route running, catching passes, and “overall demeanor.” Taylor concludes that Hardman has “the best opportunity” to be the “breakout player” on the Kansas City offense in 2021.

As a rookie, Hardman had 26 catches for 538 yards (a whopping 20.7 yards per reception) in 16 games. Last year, he caught 41 passes for 560 yards (13.7 per reception) in 16 games.

Whether and to what extent Hardman steps up in August could drive whether and to what extent the Chiefs look to bring in someone else to start across from Hill before September. The Chiefs pursued JuJu Smith-Schuster, and they may have flirted with the idea of trading for Julio Jones.

As training camps open and dominoes fall and veteran receivers potentially become supplanted by younger options, upgrade opportunities could emerge for the Chiefs. Whether they pursue those options will depend on whether Hardman shows real signs of becoming the guy the Chiefs thought he’d be when they drafted him in 2019.