What are the New York Jets getting in Mecole Hardman
The New York Jets have agreed to terms with former Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Mecole Hardman. Let’s get into everything there is to know about him as a player.
What does Hardman excel at? Where does he struggle? What is his ideal role in the Jets’ offense? We’ll cover it all.
Hardman, a product of Georgia, was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs with the 56th overall pick in the second round of the 2019 NFL draft. He played four seasons with the Chiefs and appeared in 57 games, starting 26. He also appeared in 10 playoff games, starting three.
Hardman played in every game over his first three seasons. He missed nine games in 2022 due to an abdomen injury.
- Height: 5-foot-10
- Weight: 187 pounds
- Wingspan: 71.63 inches (6th percentile among WR)
- Arm length: 30.25 inches (10th percentile)
- Hand size: 9 inches (20th percentile)
- 40 time: 4.33s (94th percentile)
- Vertical jump: 36.5 inches (64th percentile)
- Broad jump: 119 inches (36th percentile)
- Bench press: 17 reps (71st percentile)
Hardman is a smaller receiver who is best known for his speed, as he ran a blazing 4.33 in the forty-yard dash.
Hardman’s testing speed has translated to the field. He’s reached a top speed of 21.87 miles per hour, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, which he hit on this reception against the Titans in 2019. It’s the third-fastest speed reached by any NFL ball-carrier on a reception over the past four seasons.
Mecole Hardman and his speed are coming to the Jets ♨️pic.twitter.com/FVwRIonYHW
— Jets Videos (@snyjets) March 22, 2023
Since 2019, only Tyreek Hill and Marquez Valdes-Scantling have reached a faster speed post-reception than Hardman did on that play.
Synopsis of role/usage
Throughout all four of his years with the Chiefs, Hardman played approximately half of the snaps for Kansas City’s offense. Over his 57 career games, Hardman was on the field for 48% of the offensive snaps on average. Hardman never strayed far away from this number, as his career-low snap percentage in a season is 45% and his career-high was 53%.
Hardman offers inside/outside versatility. For his career, Hardman has run 801 routes out of the slot and 736 routes from out wide, a 52%/48% split.
The Chiefs got better results from Hardman when he lined up in the slot. Hardman averaged 1.72 yards per route run from the slot and 1.35 yards per route run from the outside. He also caught 13 of his 16 career touchdowns from the slot.
Hardman was not a major focal point in the Chiefs’ passing game, serving mostly as a complementary piece. The Chiefs targeted Hardman 220 times in his 57 games, an average of 3.9 targets per game.
Kansas City also utilized Hardman in the run game. Hardman has 20 rush attempts in his career. Those runs have been successful, going for 125 yards (6.3 per carry), two touchdowns, and eight first downs.
Hardman was used as a rusher even more frequently in the playoffs. In 10 playoff games, Hardman has 10 rush attempts for 110 yards (10.0 per carry), one touchdown, and four first downs.
Hardman is an experienced returner. He has returned 62 punts for 555 yards (9.0 per attempt) and one touchdown, and he has also returned 39 kickoffs for 927 yards (23.8 per attempt) and one touchdown.
Dangerous weapon on screens
Hardman is a good deep threat (more on that later), but it’s actually the screen game where he has been the most dangerous in his career so far. Hardman was heavily featured on screen plays in Kansas City and generated incredible results.
Over his career, Hardman has turned 50 screen targets into 461 yards (9.2 per target), five touchdowns, and 23 first downs. He’s incredibly elusive in these situations, forcing 14 missed tackles on 46 receptions (0.304 missed tackles forced per reception).
For perspective on how absurdly efficient Hardman has been on screens, here is a comparison of his career numbers on screens versus the NFL averages in 2022:
- Hardman career on screens: 9.2 yards per target, 10.0% touchdown rate, 46.0% first down rate, 0.304 missed tackles forced per reception
- 2022 NFL average on screens: 5.7 yards per target, 2.2% touchdown rate, 24.6% first down rate, 0.200 missed tackles forced per reception
Hardman takes the screen 44 yards! 🏃♂️💨
— Pro Football Digital (@ProFootballDig) January 9, 2022
Hardman ranked third in the NFL with 241 receiving yards off screens in 2021 (14.2 yards per game). In 2022, he had 68 receiving yards off screens in only eight games. He still finished sixth in the league with 8.5 receiving yards per game off screens.
Couple Hardman’s screen-game prowess with his production as a rusher, and he is the ultimate “gadget guy”. He’ll fit seamlessly into the role vacated by Braxton Berrios in the Jets’ offense – arguably serving as a significant upgrade.
Good deep threat
Hardman is an efficient deep threat. Over his 57 career regular season games, Hardman has caught 15 deep passes (20+ yards downfield) on 37 targets. That’s a catch rate of 40.5%, which is a decent bit better than the 2022 NFL average of 37.4%.
Overall, Patrick Mahomes went 15-of-37 for 620 yards, three touchdowns, and no interceptions when targeting Hardman on deep passes, giving Mahomes a passer rating of 115.0 on these attempts. For perspective, the 2022 NFL average passer rating on deep passes was 88.8.
— Cold Blooded Sports (@ColdBloodedChat) December 8, 2019
Drops are somewhat of a concern
With 13 drops against 153 receptions in his career, Hardman owns a drop rate of 7.9%, which is higher than the 2022 NFL average for wide receivers (5.8%).
In fairness to Hardman, seven of those 13 drops came in the 2020 season. Outside of that year, his hands have been average; his drop rate is 5.2% across his other three seasons. Still, Hardman had a subpar drop rate of 7.4% in 2022.
Hardman’s hands are best described as slightly below average.
— Pro Football Culture (@proftblculture) January 30, 2022
Hasn’t offered much else in passing game besides screens and deep bombs
Of Hardman’s 220 career targets, 87 of them were either a screen or a deep pass, which is a whopping 39.5%. For reference, the league-average rate for wide receivers in 2022 was 26.1%.
Hardman has drawn 133 career targets that were not a screen or a deep pass. Over 57 games, that’s only 2.3 per game. Hardman has just 90 catches in his career that were not a screen or a deep pass, which is a paltry 1.6 per game.
The lack of production outside of screens and bombs is the main drawback that has prevented Hardman from fulfilling his potential. These issues have been magnified in games where Hardman was asked to play a more featured role.
Take a look at how much Hardman’s production changes when he plays at least 65% of the offensive snaps compared to all other games:
- Snap percentage of 65% or higher (16 games): 580 routes run (36.3 per game), 680 receiving yards on 80 targets, 39.6 receiving YPG, 1.17 yards per route run, 7.9 yards per target, 3 receiving TD (TD on 3.8% of targets and 0.5% of routes), 9.7% drop rate
- Snap percentage under 65% (41 games): 684 routes run (16.7 per game), 1,408 receiving yards on 140 targets, 35.5 receiving YPG, 2.06 yards per route run, 10.4 yards per target, 13 receiving TD (TD on 9.3% of targets and 1.9% of routes), 6.9% drop rate
Hardman’s efficiency has been drastically worse when he is asked to play a higher dosage of snaps. This is because, in a key starting role, Hardman is asked to do a variety of extra things that he struggles with. In his usual role, the Chiefs mainly ask him to do things he excels at, so his efficiency is excellent even if the volume is low.
For the Jets, though, this shouldn’t be a problem. Hardman currently projects as the WR4 on New York’s depth chart. The Jets will likely give him a similar role to the one he played in Kansas City, where he can focus on the things he is best at. He’ll be effective when everyone is healthy and he can play a role that suits him.
But when someone gets hurt and Hardman has to step up, he might not be the idealistic backup wide receiver to thrust into a featured role.
According to NFL Next Gen Stats, here is a breakdown of the route types Hardman ran in 2021 (based on the percentage of his route-running snaps in which he ran each route type tracked by NGS). This includes all plays in which he ran out for a pass, not just plays where he was targeted. I chose to use the 2021 season since it gives us a much larger sample of data than the 2022 season, when Hardman missed nine games. The numbers are pretty similar, anyway.
- Cross: 19.1% (WR average: 10.7%), Margin vs. WR average: +8.4%
- Post: 14.6% (WR average: 8.6%), +6.0%
- Screen: 8.8% (WR average: 3.1%), +5.7%
- Flat: 3.5% (WR average: 3.4%), +0.1%
- Corner: 4.0% (WR average: 5.4%), -1.4%
- Hitch: 16.1% (WR average: 17.6%), -1.5%
- Slant: 4.0% (WR average: 6.8%), -2.8%
- In: 6.0% (WR average: 10.5%), -4.5%
- Out: 5.0% (WR average: 9.7%), -4.7%
- Go: 18.8% (WR average: 24.1%), -5.3%
Hardman’s route distribution is quite extreme, as he is either well above or well below the positional average in many different route types. It speaks to his status as a player with a very specific skill set who has to be used in a certain way to be effective.
As expected, the screen is an enormous part of Hardman’s role. He ran a screen on 8.8% of his routes in 2021, which was the highest rate in the NFL among wide receivers who want at least 300 total routes (90 qualifiers).
The crossing route was also a fixture for Hardman. His 19.1% rate of crossing routes ranked second-highest among wide receivers who ran at least 300 total routes.
Kansas City’s offense is built upon getting the ball to its speedy playmakers in space, so the crosser was perfect for Hardman. It allowed him to use his speed to create separation rather than having to rely on route-running finesse.
This play is somewhat similar to Mahomes’ no look throw last week. Gray stays in the block initially versus Fortson running a wheel. Hardman runs more of a true crosser. #JacobsEyeInTheSky #Chiefs pic.twitter.com/DcUANt9pHJ
— Nick Jacobs (@Jacobs71) September 19, 2022
Rounding out the core of Hardman’s diet was the post route. Just like the crossing route, Hardman ranked second among qualifiers in post route frequency at 14.6% of his routes. It’s on these post routes where Hardman did a lot of his damage as a deep receiver.
#SomethingGood Mahomes delivers a great ball to Mecole Hardman. These two have put a TD on tape now and defenses will have to honor it.
Nice little nod on the post. Let Mecole run verts. That's where he'll succeed. pic.twitter.com/ytILd6k77n
— Kent Swanson (@kent_swanson) September 17, 2019
Hardman runs the slant, in, out, and go routes significantly less often than the average receiver. In routes and out routes, specifically, tend to be very technical routes that require excellent route-running skill, so this could be an indicator of Kansas City’s lack of trust in Hardman’s route-running.
Mecole Hardman is a seamless fit as the Jets’ WR4 and Braxton Berrios replacement
The Jets lost their WR4 and “gadget guy” when they released Braxton Berrios. Hardman is a perfect fit to not only fill Berrios’ shoes, but serve as an upgrade in the same role.
Hardman’s pure speed and established track record of elite efficiency on screens and rush attempts will allow him to thrive as the Jets’ go-to guy on designed touches. He should be able to surpass Berrios’ effectiveness on these plays. Plus, Hardman’s effectiveness as a deep threat is a new element that Berrios did not bring to the table. With Aaron Rodgers coming to town, Hardman’s vertical speed should be maximized.
Additionally, Hardman can compete for one or both of the Jets’ return roles, which were also vacated by Berrios’ exit.
Hardman figures to be highly effective for the Jets in his specific role when everyone is healthy. However, he isn’t the most ideal backup for stepping up into a starting role when someone gets hurt. His all-around game as a wide receiver is quite limited and it will show if he has to take on an extended diet of snaps and targets.
But when he is used in a neatly confined role that emphasizes his strengths and hides his weaknesses, Hardman will be a dangerous weapon for the Jets.
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