As we head into summer, we are creeping ever closer to a new Chiefs season. With a new season comes new hope and new expectations around the league, from the likes of All-Pro superstars to players simply trying to make a 53-man roster as depth.
Some of those players will enter 2022 facing make-or-break seasons. For some, it’s the last chance to prove their worth and that they belong in the NFL after being regarded as high draft picks. Every team will have these so-called “boom or bust” players coming into the new season, and every team will see some that fail and some that will succeed.
With that said, here are three players on the Kansas City Chiefs that must prove their worth next season or risk being replaced in 2023:
Mecole Hardman, Wide Receiver, Chiefs
Drafted: (R2, 2019)
Mecole Hardman has been an interesting player through his first three seasons. Many think Hardman was originally drafted as protection against a possible Tyreek Hill suspension. As a result, the three-year vet out of Georgia came into Kansas City with high expectations for a second-round selection. Fortunately for Kansas City, the team went into 2019 with both wideouts, after Hill was cleared of any wrongdoing by an NFL investigation.
Hardman has posted decent numbers for the Chiefs in his three seasons, tallying no less than 500 yards in each season. He’s also seen his yardage totals increase with each season. However, on the flip side, Hardman’s touchdown numbers have slipped with each passing season, posting seven TDs in 2019, six TDs in 2020, and a career-low four TDs in 2021.
Unfortunately for Mecole, he will always be compared to two receivers — D.K. Metcalf and Terry McLaurin — each taken after him in the same draft. Both of those wideouts have proved to be capable of the WR1 title on each of their respected teams and much larger assets than Mecole has shown to be thus far.
The 2019 WR draft class is insane 🤯 pic.twitter.com/TgntiJoHFe — PFF Fantasy Football (@PFF_Fantasy) February 5, 2022
Given his draft selection, there is hope that Hardman can take control of the Chiefs’ wide receiver room with the departure of Hill. It will be an uphill battle, as Mecole finds himself within a loaded receiver room that now includes Marquez Valdes-Scantling, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Skyy Moore, Josh Gordon, and budding fan-favorite, Justyn Ross.
2022 will likely be a big tell for what the future holds for Hardman in Kansas City. Will the veteran receiver find growth and emerge from the (now absent) shadow of Hill, or will we see the newcomers in town push Hardman down the depth chart, into obscurity to be forgotten and known only as a gadget player?
Lucas Niang, Right Tackle, Chiefs
Drafted: (R3, 2020)
Lucas Niang is a curious case, as he opted to sit out his rookie season due to COVID. As a result, we only have one year of footage of the big man. It could be argued that it’s too premature to have Niang on this list. However, the Chiefs drafted a possible replacement at the right tackle position in April and there’s a very fair discussion to be had here.
Kansas City selected Niang back in the 2020 Draft, and he would’ve certainly been positioned well to see lots of playing time in his rookie year with the early-season injury to All-Pro Tackle Mitchell Schwartz. However, with Niang opting to sit out his rookie campaign, the former TCU Horned Frog lost opportunities to make inroads with the Chiefs, and instead began 2021 seated behind the eight-ball.
Niang had a sub-par 2021 season, starting the season at right tackle before eventually losing the job to 32-year old veteran Mike Remmers. A late-season injury (a torn patellar tendon) in the Week 17 game against the Bengals subsequently ended his disappointing 2021 campaign.
According to PFF, Lucas Niang is tied with the 6th most pressures allowed from the T position. He has allowed 20 pressures. #Chiefs #ChiefsKingdom — Chiefs Hive (@chiefshive) October 12, 2021
After being drafted with the promise of anchoring the right side of the Chiefs’ offensive line, Niang looked to be a hopeful prospect. After sitting out of 2020 and then not having a great 2021 season, Niang’s time with Kansas City will hinge greatly on the upcoming season. He will have to compete and outshine newcomer Darian Kinnard if he’s to land the starting RT position in 2022 and secure his roster spot with the team in 2023 and beyond.
Clyde Edwards-Helaire, Running Back, Chiefs
Drafted: (R1, 2020)
I think we all knew “CEH” was going to fall somewhere on this list. After being selected #32 overall in the 2020 Draft, Edwards-Helaire has failed to live up to his draft stock thus far.
Selecting a running back in the first-round has become a big no-no in recent years, with the value of the position seemingly declining with every year that passes. With that narrative ringing true, its become even more of an uphill battle for Helaire to live up to the very high standard many expect of him.
Has KC's "luxury pick" of Clyde Edwards-Helaire worked out? Their offense was great without him, including Damien Williams nearly winning SB MVP. I think CEH is a good player, but no roster has the "luxury" of making pick of poor value. RB in RD1 is not the way. — Jon Scott (@JonScottTV) April 27, 2022
Throughout the previous two seasons, Edwards-Helaire has been out-produced and less effective than his counterparts (Jerick McKinnon, Darrel Williams), and in some cases even lost snaps to those other options.
In total, he has totaled 1,320 yards on the ground, 426 yards through the air and 11 total touchdowns. Very modest numbers for a former first-round selection and not the type of production you’d hope for out of an RB1. Injuries have also been another concern for the two-year vet.
He’s missed time each of his two seasons, missing three games in 2020 with a leg injury and then seven games in 2021 with a collarbone injury.
Entering 2022, “CEH” is expected to split carries with free-agent acquisition Ronald Jones II and be pressed by Derrick Gore and 2022 Draft pick Isiah Pacheco for snaps. Although Edwards-Helaire’s roster spot on the team is likely safe through 2022, his chances to prove himself as Kansas City’s lead tailback are quickly dwindling and may fade away completely if not for a stellar season in 2022.
Which Chiefs player needs to have a big season in 2022 the most? Leave a comment down below to join the discussion.
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