Mecole Hardman Is A Fantasy Football Riddle
Projecting Mecole Hardman is one of the hardest to solve equations in fantasy football in 2019. There are more variables than anyone could ever hope to control for when doing projections. Tyreek Hill is likely suspended buy as of May, we simply do not know how many games Hill will play for the Chiefs in 2019. The Kansas City Chiefs were the best offense in football in 2019 and the likelihood of Patrick Mahomes repeating 5,000 yards and 50 touchdowns is minimal (that is just the way math works). Sammy Watkins hasn’t played a full season since his rookie year and Travis Kelce is coming off of offseason ankle surgery. Kareem Hunt has been replaced by Damien Williams as the lead running back. All of that is true… and Mecole Hardman had only 60 receptions in college and played in an archaic, run-first scheme at Georgia.
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The trick in projecting Hardman is projecting playing time and efficiency. Do the Kansas City Chiefs think that Hardman is ready to play as the second wide receiver from week one? I took a look at players who profiled similarly to Hardman in the draft to get an idea of the historical precedent.
My search, run on ProFootballReference, was for wide receivers since 2000 who weighed less than 195 pounds, were drafted in the second or third round and were age 21 in their rookie year.
In terms of comp buckets, this is not the worst list I have ever seen though it does not include anyone who was partiuclarly fantasy football relevant as a rookie. Robert Woods saw 85 targets with an atrocious catch rate, though E.J Manuel and Thad Lewis were his quarterbacks. Woods, Randall Cobb, and Curtis Samuel all saw future fantasy relevance so in terms of projecting Mecole Hardman out a few years, I would judge this as a positive.
Tyreek Hill’s rookie season might also provide us some insight on how Andy Reid plans to use Hardman. Hill was second on the team in targets as a rookie, behind only Travis Kelce. Jeremy Maclin had one of his worst seasons as a pro and was soon on his way out of the door after playing only 12 games in 2016. Chris Conley, Albert Wilson, Spencer Ware, Charcandrick West and Demetrius Harris also all saw over 30 targets. Hill actually had his lowest average depth of target at only eight yards in 2016 due to his heavy usage on screens.
The largest reason to be in on Mecole Hardman from a fantasy football perspective is available volume. Shawn Siegele did some great work looking at Hardman for dynasty purposes and noted that the Kansas City Chiefs have 189 targets and 1,813 yards up for grabs from last season. In our projections for the Chiefs, we have Hardman at 15% market share of the Chiefs targets which is third on the team behind Sammy Watkins and Travis Kelce. That projection gives Hardman a shade over 80 targets, 700 yards, and almost six touchdowns. That projection puts Hardman outside the top 35 at the wide receiver position but keep in mind, this is a median projection.
The range of outcomes for Hardman is fairly large. I would not be surprised to see him in a similar volume role to what Tyreek Hill did as a rookie. The big difference between those two seasons, however, is at quarterback. Patrick Mahomes had what is probably the best quarterback season of all time last year and has another offseason to train, get better and learn more about to be an effective player. The list of players who had less than 70 receptions in college and low market share like Hardman did at Georiga and succeeded in the NFL is low (though Tyreek Hill is an example). Draft position tends to be one of the best indicators we have of future performance and Hardman has that as well as being a star return man which also positively correlates to future fantasy football success.
In DRAFT Best Ball’s, Hardman has crept up into the top 100 of Average Draft Position. That is a fairly rich price tag, especially when Sammy Watkins remains underpriced. However, Hardman likely does profile as a +EV best ball asset due to his expected usage as a big play threat. I am more likely to invest in a player like Hardman with a volatile volume projection but a very clear projection for a few spiked weeks over the course of a 16 game season in best ball over weekly management. In weekly management leagues, I will likely be opting for Sammy Watkins as my primary investment into the Kansas City Chiefs offense.