Fantasy Football: Can Mecole Hardman Break Out in 2020?
Hardman showed flashes of big-play ability in 2019, and many are hopeful of seeing much more in 2020. But with regards to Hardman's appeal as a fantasy option, there are a number of barriers to him being a player that you can comfortably plug into your weekly lineups.
Exciting Rookie Campaign
Hardman averaged a whopping 20.7 yards per reception in his rookie season, with his 26 grabs bringing him 538 yards and 6 touchdowns. Since 2000, the only rookie wide receivers with a higher yard per reception average than Hardman (minimum 40 targets) were Martavis Bryant and Hank Baskett, who both averaged 21.1.
Hardman's efficiency is reflected in numberFire's metrics. His 2.00 Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per reception, 1.00 Target NEP per target, and 1.27 Reception NEP per target were all first among the 100 wide receivers to see 40 or more targets last season.
Going back to 2000 again, Hardman was one of only three wide receivers with a Target NEP per target of 1.00 or better in a season with at least 40 targets. The only better marks were Tyler Lockett's 1.14 with the Seattle Seahawks in 2018 and Dennis Northcutt's 1.02 for the Cleveland Browns in 2002. That's a sample size of 1,935 seasons.
In terms of efficiency, there is definitely an awful lot to like with regards to Hardman. But while efficiency is good, when it comes to fantasy football, volume is the key driver. And here is where it begins to look iffy for Hardman. Hardman only commanded 41 targets last season, a total exceeded by 96 other wide receivers.
The Chiefs have an offense positively overflowing with talent, from quarterback Patrick Mahomes to wide receivers Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, and Demarcus Robinson, to possibly the league's best tight end in Travis Kelce. We haven't even touched on the fact that they drafted one of the best receiving backs in this year's draft class in Clyde Edwards-Helaire to pair with an already-great receiving back in Damien Williams. CEH had 55 receptions for 453 yards and a touchdown for the National Champion LSU Tigers last season.
In other words, targets are not going to just be handed out willy-nilly.
Hardman's fantasy output in 2019 depended greatly on the presence of Tyreek Hill. As you can see below, Hardman's numbers with and without Hill make for a stark contrast.
|Games With Tyreek Hill||Games Without Tyreek Hill|
|PPR Points Per game||6.25||12.18|
In those four games, Hardman played on 66% of Kansas City's offensive snaps. After Week 5, Hardman would only play on more than 63% in a game once, and that came in Week 11 when injury restricted Hill to just 10.2% of the plays. Simply put, it is hard to see Hardman carving out a major role for himself as long as Hill is fit and healthy.
We must also consider that Hardman may not be built to be a player who commands a heavy dose of targets. Going back to his college days at Georgia, Hardman had more than four receptions in a game just once.
Competition for Targets
If, and when, Hardman gets on the field, we have seen that he can make big plays. It helps that he is tethered to the most efficient quarterback in the NFL, of course. Mahomes led all quarterbacks with 0.31 Passing NEP per drop back last season (minimum 500 drop-backs), and his chemistry with Hardman was there for all to see.
Mahomes averaged 15.16 adjusted yards per attempt when looking Hardman's way. However, it's not as if Mahomes is lacking chemistry with his other receivers. He averages 10.00 when targeting Hill, 9.74 when looking for Kelce, and 9.48 when passes are heading the way of Watkins. There is also the fact that, despite his efficiency last season, Hardman wasn't really fantasy relevant at any stage. He had just a single week as a top 12 fantasy performer.
Without meaning to use a well-worn cliche, Hardman would appear to be a perfect best-ball option. He may have weeks where he chips in with fantasy points, but trying to decide when those weeks will come could be a nightmare as long as the Chiefs have a healthy receiving corps.
Even so, his current Fanball ADP of WR42 fits in with our projections (WR41, sitting between Sterling Shepard and Christian Kirk), and that wouldn't be the worst place to land him as you fill out your bench.
I won't say that the Hardman breakout will never come, but it's unlikely to happen this year.