As we all know, last season the Vikings sorely lacked a true second option at wide receiver who can help take pressure off of Justin Jefferson. Thus far, wide receiver is one of the positions of need the Minnesota Vikings have yet to address in free agency. Adam Thielen was released from the Vikings after the two sides failed to reach an agreement on a reworked contract, and Olabisi Johnson is also a free agent.
A potential wide receiver signing could be on the horizon. The Minnesota Vikings have had casual conversations with Chiefs WR Mecole Hardman about signing a contract. There’s a lot of things to like about the Vikings potentially signing Hardman.
He’s 25 years old and fits the Vikings timeline perfectly, which has been a real priority for Kwesi Adofo-Mensah this offseason. Mecole is best known for being a speed demon, and when used correctly can absolutely terrorize defenses, especially when most of the focus is on an elite wide receiver and tight end. Whether that be Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, or Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson, Hardman has shown that he can at least beat his man and get separation with ease.
Just don’t expect him to come in and be the Vikings' WR2. Mecole Hardman is a player who was given every chance in Kansas City to be their WR2, but failed to be anything more than a gadget player. It’s not exactly a ringing endorsement when your team signs JuJu Smith-Schuster, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and drafts Skyy Moore in the first round in an offseason where you’re expected to be the team’s number one option at wide receiver. In 2022, Smith-Schuster and Valdez-Scantling both had more receiving yards per game than Mecole Hardman.
2021 was Mecole Hardman’s best season of his career. That year, he caught 59 passes for 693 yards, and only caught 2 touchdowns. He didn’t miss a single game that season. In Adam Thielen’s last season with the Vikings – a campaign that many fans considered to be a down year for the veteran WR, Thielen caught 70 passes for 716 yards and 6 touchdowns. Adam did not miss a single game in 2022. In essence, Thielen’s worst season would be considered a career year for Hardman. Mecole Hardman is one of those players who is better in theory than he is in reality. In his four-year career, Mecole Hardman has never registered a PFF grade over 70.
That’s not to say the Vikings shouldn’t sign Hardman. I think he’d be a good fit in Minnesota, and his speed is something defenses need to account for. However, Mecole is more of a gadget player than a true WR2 who can handle a heavy workload, similar to Jalen Reagor. Hardman suffers from having a limited route tree and he isn’t a natural pass catcher either. Don’t let his 73.5% catch rate fool you, Hardman had a 52.9 PFF drop grade and benefitted from having a coach who could find ways to manufacture touches. That means easier routes, which leads to easier catches. Hence, the high catch rate.
So what would a Mecole Hardman signing look like for Minnesota? For starters, he wouldn’t supplant KJ Osborn as WR2. Like it or not, KJ Osborn is now the oldest wide receiver on the Vikings’ roster and the de-facto veteran presence. I think Hardman’s role is a speedy WR3. Justin Jefferson, T.J. Hockenson, and KJ Osborn will have Kirk’s trust early. If Hardman puts in the work in the offseason and develops chemistry with Kirk on the fly, he’ll have more of an established role to start the season.
If the Vikings draft a receiver in the first round, that player would be destined to have a significant role in the offense. That leaves Hardman competing with Jalen Nailor and Jalen Reagor for targets at WR4. At that point, his role would be drastically reduced to being an occasional deep ball catcher who acts as the team’s primary kick returner. This is why Minnesota needs to be careful and not overpay for his services. Hardman isn’t reliable enough as an all-around receiver to maintain his spot on the depth chart for an extended period of time.
The Minnesota Vikings still need to address the receiver position, and Mecole Hardman could be a decent addition to the team, especially if Kevin O’Connell can utilize his unique athletic skillset. That being said, if you expect Hardman to come in and immediately solidify himself as a bonafide WR2 who commands 7 targets a game, you’re bound to be disappointed.