The Mecole Hardman trade reflects the state of the Chiefs receivers | ultragr


Adam TeicherESPN staff writerOctober 20, 2023, 09:00 AM ET6 minutes of reading

Pat McAfee applauds Mecole Hardman’s return to Chiefs

Pat McAfee expects Mecole Hardman to thrive upon his return to the Chiefs.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The The Kansas City Chiefs thought they were set at wide receiver heading into the season by bringing back four players who contributed to last year’s Super Bowl winning team.

It speaks to how much this season has deviated from the plan that their leading player at the position is rookie second-round draft pick Rashee Rice instead.

They also traded for Mecole Hardman this week, bringing back a player who caught 151 passes and scored 19 touchdowns in four seasons with the Chiefs before leaving as a free agent earlier this year to the New York Jets. The move suggests the Chiefs want more production from a receiving game that has featured consistent threat in tight end Travis Kelce and was hoping for bigger things from Rice.

“It’s not necessarily the type of offense where you’re going to see one guy get 18 targets every week,” offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said. “That’s just not who we are and it’s always been that way. There’s been some outliers here and there over time, but I think that’s the beauty of the offense as well.

“We’ve got a lot of guys learning to play wide receiver in this offense and learning who they are. It’s just a little bit of both and then they just continue to grow, so when we get to the end of the season, we’re rolling.”

The Chiefs have a lot of room for that growth. Their wide receivers have caught 70 passes, the same number they caught last season in six games.

But the yards per catch average is way down from last season, when the Chiefs were eighth in the league among wide receivers at 13.9. This year, wide receivers are 18th at 12.2 yards.

They have yet to develop most of their veterans as the Chiefs had hoped. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney and Skyy Moore combined for just 35 catches, 353 yards and two touchdowns.

“I still feel like when it’s needed the most, guys make plays,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said, pointing to big catches by Moore and Rice late in last week’s game against the Denver Broncos.

“We’ve got to keep getting better and better as we go through the season, so hopefully when we get to the playoffs, we can get what we have and intensity-wise, we can really match our defense.”

Cooper Neill/Getty Images

Although he practiced with the Chiefs for the first time on Thursday, Hardman could start Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers at Arrowhead Stadium. His most productive season with the Chiefs came as a rookie in 2019, when he scored seven touchdowns, including one on a kickoff return, and averaged 20.7 yards per catch.

But he played well last year, making 17 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns in his final four games of the regular season before tearing his groin in a way he said kept him out of action for a while and spent 10 days in it. HOSPITAL.

Hardman said he’s 100% now and the Chiefs could use him in the same role they’ve had. The Chiefs tried to take advantage of his speed by getting him the ball on jets, screens and pop passes.

“He’s done it and I think he’s good at it,” Nagy said. “But we just have to decide, ‘Is this something we want to do as we grow here and do we want to add more things to it? If we didn’t have him until now last year or this offseason, what are some things that maybe do we wish we could do with him now that we don’t have him?’

Rice has already embraced a bigger role than the Chiefs envisioned for him, at least early in the season. He wasn’t perfect, dropping a few passes for a 7.1% drop rate. But only Kelce still trails the Chiefs in catches (21) and receptions (245).

“In practice, we started with that fast pace, so it prepared me during the preseason, got my nerves out of the way, got me out of the way in a hurry instead of being calm and playing fast, so when the regular season got here, I was ready to your moment,” Rice said.

“We just have a great quarterback who can pull out of the pocket and always do something amazing with the ball in his hands. So if you’re available and you’re in his eyes, you just have to watch the ball and make a play.”

The Chiefs tried to get the ball to Rice when he can run the catcher. His average of nearly seven yards after the catch is fifth in the NFL among wide receivers.

“I think it’s a big part (of my game),” Rice said. “I feel like every time I get my hands on the ball, I get at least five yards. I feel like any screen or anything you get, any run of four yards or more is a great (gain). to get the offensive game going.”

With the Chiefs getting little from many of their other wide receivers, Rice’s play has become vital for the Chiefs. The Chiefs have 11 games left in the regular season, so there’s plenty of time for one or more of their other wide receivers to catch him statistically.

Nagy said he wouldn’t be surprised if Rice didn’t lead the wide-out in the postseason.

“I don’t think so,” Nagy said. “I know from week to week it could be someone who jumps out and has a great game. And so these guys know that in our playbook when we practice, it’s like, ‘Who’s going to get it this week?’

“I think that may be the strength of this attack.

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