Towards the end of the 2021-22 season, there was a bit of a shift for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman. Over the Chiefs’ final six games, the third-year receiver seemed to etch his signature — either as a receiver, returner, or even as a ball carrier — for at least a play or two in each game. With those successes came added confidence, as evidenced in Hardman’s sideline scrum with teammate Tyreek Hill over a lack of targets during the AFC Championship Game.
All of those situations circle back into a few questions, though. Was it a matter of the speedy receiver putting everything together consistently? Will the potential of those raw numbers help Hardman stave off potential competition if the Chiefs elect to bring on more wideouts this offseason? And after improving from years one and two to year three, how much higher can he float during his upcoming contract season?
The 1,000-yard benchmark, though a bit easier to attain in a 17-game season, has historically served as a benchmark for elite play at the receiver position. In pondering over his goals for the future, the former Georgia Bulldog wasn’t bashful about his expectation of reaching that goal during his recent sit-down on NBC's Pro Football Talk with Mike Florio and Chris Simms when asked about it:
About time for the 1,000-yard season. Just personally speaking, a 1,000-yard season (is) definitely coming up. But, just trying to get better every year. Improving on the catching, improving on the routes. I think I had the most first downs of my career as well with the catches, so it’s like, just improving the small things and everything else will come with it.
The 1,000-yard talk is entertaining, if not interesting. It certainly feels more reasonable if the discussion is raw scrimmage yards or all-purpose yards. But, for reference, from Week 15 of the regular season through the AFC Championship Game, Hardman did accumulate 51.3 scrimmage yards per game. That averages out to about 873 over a 17-game season. Through that role as a player capable of putting together a big play or two per game like he did at the tail end of the year, it’s ambitious but not laughable.
Statistically, though, Hardman's success will likely always be tethered to those ahead of him in the depth chart in Hill and Travis Kelce. A trio of 1,000-yard receivers has only happened five times, the last of which came in 2008.
Hardman improved on his drops, lowering the number from eight in 2020 to just two in 2021. Putting together a year-after-year level of consistency will be huge for him, though. Also to his credit, which we’ve noted before, there were a handful of missed opportunities in which Patrick Mahomes just missed Hardman on deep, field position shifting-type plays — including an ugly one in the AFC title game.
The statistics talk isn’t as important as how Hardman continues to consistently make himself a cog in the Chiefs’ offensive machine. Save for a fumble in the Wild-Card Game, he provided value when his number was called — 13.8 yards per touch — over that six-game benchmark. Those customary jet sweeps and carries over the edge yielded better results. He certainly appears more nuanced on the receiving side of things; it’s easy to forget this beautifully-timed, patient, crossing route against the Bills’ single-high coverage with Hill on the sidelines. That was none other than the play that set up Kelce’s game-winning snag.
Thinking more big-picture, there’s certainly a case for the Chiefs to go full 'Thanos mode' and add another major piece to their receiving group. Whether it be through the loaded free agency group or through the 2022 NFL Draft, that possibility is legitimate. With little concrete news thus far in regards to pending free agents Byron Pringle and Demarcus Robinson, Hardman, for the moment, remains perched in that No. 2 spot with a little bit of momentum on his side. His next matchup with newfound rival Eli Apple will be one to watch, as will his 2022-23 season and all of the ambitious goals he has set out for it.