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The Jets sign Mecole Hardman, How does the Hardman and JuJu loss impact the Chiefs in 2023?

Mecole and JuJu gone, now what?

(Photo by: Cooper Neill/Getty Images)

Patrick Mahomes will be playing with a different wide receiver corps in 2023. First, JuJu Smith Schuster signs with the New England Patriots, now the Chiefs have lost another receiver with Mecole Hardman signing with the New York Jets on a 1-year deal.

With Hardman’s departure, the Chiefs are losing a speed threat on the offensive side of the ball along with a red zone weapon. He’ll add that element to a New York offense that hopes to land Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers in a trade. Hardman finishes his Chiefs career with 26 starts in 57 regular-season appearances. He caught 151 passes for 2,088 yards and 16 receiving touchdowns in those games, plus 20 carries for 125 yards and two touchdowns. On special teams, he managed 62 punt returns for 555 yards and a touchdown. He also returned 39 kicks for 927 yards and a score.

He also appeared in 10 career playoff games, including Super Bowl LIV and Super Bowl LV. During those 10 games, he caught 22 passes for 226 yards and two scores, alongside 11 carries for 110 yards and a rushing touchdown. 

These decisions are never easy, especially with a player like Mecole who the organization and fanbase have grown close with on and off the field over the last 4 seasons. We have a lot of respect for the way he went about his business and how he handles himself as a pro. We wish him the best of luck moving forward.

Now the Chiefs have to address two vacant roles left by Smith-Schuster and Hardman at the receiver position. With or without a top tier receiver on the team, the Chiefs have one of the best passing attacks in the league, led by reigning MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes. While the 2-time NFL MVP’s success has come thanks to having superstar pass-catching option TE Travis Kelce, Kansas City still lacks a legitimate No. 1 and 2 wideout.

In the past, the Chiefs have tested out Hardman and Byron Pringle in the role, but neither player has stepped up on a consistent basis. If the Chiefs want to repeat with back to back titles, bringing in some outside help is a must. Of course, there is the rumor of the Chiefs interest in trading for superstar receiver DeAndre Hopkins from the Arizona Cardinals. It was said, that if D-Hop comes, don’t be surprised if Odell Beckham Jr. follows him.

Fortunately, there are still some reliable options in free agency that could still help the Chiefs. If the Chiefs don’t go after D-Hop, there are options like Odell Beckham Jr. The three-time Pro Bowl wideout provided to be a reliable weapon during the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl LVI run, catching 21-of-26 targets (80.8%) for 288 yards and two touchdowns in four games. Beckham has since undergone successful knee surgery and looks to be back at full strength. If that’s the case, a healthy OBJ could take the Chiefs to the next level. It was only a handful of seasons ago that Beckham had his most recent 1,000-yard season and playing with someone like Mahomes could help him get back there.

Another option, if the Chiefs wanted to get bold, why not bring Odell and his college teammate Jarvis Landry. Both not only went to LSU, both have played in Andy Reid’s scheme in the two Pro Bowls he coached in 2015 and 2016. Landry’s best days are behind him, but it’s safe to call his 2022 season as something that doesn’t count against him. That’s how mediocre the New Orleans Saints’ offense was. Landry played in just 9 games and caught 25 balls for 272 yards. Get him in a legitimate offense like the Chiefs and expect a climb back to more stable numbers. The veteran tallied 570 yards in 2021.

Another option is the 6-4, speedy D.J. Chark. Injuries played a factor, but D.J. Chark’s time in Detroit didn’t pan out well. Even on an offense that ranked third in yards, Chark sat firmly behind Amon-Ra St. Brown and Kalif Raymond in terms of Jared Goff’s favorite targets. He ended the year with 30 receptions and 502 yards across 10 starts. He still ran a 4.34 and his size and speed would be beneficial for the Chiefs.

The Chiefs could look to the Draft come this April for a wideout option. Guys to consider are Quentin Johnston (TCU), Jaxon Smith-Njigba (Ohio State), Jordan Addison (USC), Zay Flowers (Boston College), Nathaniel Dell (Houston), Rome Odunze (Washington), Parker Washington (Penn State), Kayshon Boutte (LSU), Rashee Rice (SMU), Jalin Hyatt (Tennessee), Cedric Tillman (Tennessee), Jonathan Mingo (Ole Miss), Xavier Hutchinson (Iowa State) and Josh Downs (North Carolina).

The Chiefs could easily get one of these players and develop them into star pass catchers for Mahomes down the road. In the meantime, the team will look to continue their development of their guys they have in house. It was reported by NFL Network’s James Palmer that the Chiefs are expecting to turn Kadarius Toney into the team’s new No. 1 opposite Kelce in 2023.

Toney is a fun, explosive athlete showing the ability to put defenders on skates with double moves, adjusting to the ball well in the air and gets everything he can out of his smaller size by extending to make catches with his hands unlike when Tyreek Hill caught it with his body. The injuries might be a concern but that won’t be an issue. The Chiefs will utilize Toney the best way they can even if it’s a snap count as a way to keep him healthy.

The Chiefs still have field stretcher Marquez Valdes-Scantling. MVS made an impact in this offense late into the postseason where he made his money. MVS has a lot of the same physical gifts Mecole Hardman has, but he is in a 6’4 200+ lb package. Year 2 in this system should make him play a lot better in terms of scoring more TDs (MVS only had 2 in the regular season). 

Skyy Moore saved his best for last in the postseason not only with his punt return that sent us to the Super Bowl but his TD in the big game should boost his confidence going into 2023.  Moore’s has the reliable hands, speed, vertical ability and the ability to win on all three levels (short, intermediate and deep passes) will be a fun to watch in KC’s offense with an expanded role like Toney, especially with the loss of Hardman.

Chiefs fans should anticipate the debut of highly talented UDFA redshirt rookie receiver Justyn Ross from Clemson. Ross sat out in 2022 due to a leg injury that occurred before the start of training camp. With a full year under his belt of OBJ, expect the Chiefs to rely on the 6-foot-4, 215 pounder as a high-volume possession WR in the intermediate areas of the field and redzone. Ross will be a valuable, reliable asset as he continues to develop.

The loss of Hardman lastly opens up an opportunity for the former 2017 first round pick John Ross III to earn a roster spot in 2023. Ross would be a role player who can dominate with his 4.22 speed and his athleticism in gadget plays and he can take the top off of coverages, and a ceiling of a potential starting WR2. 

Whatever the team does, Brett Veach knows what he’s doing. If he doesn’t go after D-Hop, there’s a reason. Just like last season, if we can win a Super Bowl playing all of the rookies we drafted then we can do it again. I’m not saying Veach is adding two receivers in the Draft. I am saying that there are those options rather Free agency, Draft and maybe a trade. I can see Veach adding two vets and not drafting any receiver (especially if he finds one in the UDFA wire post Draft like Ross in 2022) or he adds one vet and drafts one receiver. Either way, the Chiefs are in good standing and there shouldn’t be anything to worry about. In Veach we trust and We have Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes. Veach isn’t done yet and maybe it’s time for the Kingdom to relax and trust the man who has been a big part of two World titles since he became the GM in 2017. Just relax, Chiefs Kingdom.


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