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WE'RE ALWAYS LOOKING FOR AN EDGE
We don't always know where to look and when we do, we often fail to recognize the genuine article for it is. An edge at this time of the year can require risk. Most people are risk-averse. There is a smaller percentage of GMs who often lack a good barometer for what's too risky, but they're a topic for another time.
Gaining an edge at this time of the year requires having the vision to see the possibility of an outcome that most people didn't expect, identifying the tangible and logical reasons that can underpin this possibility, and having the guts to embrace it.
If you're a serial trader, check yourself with that fine line between what's truly going to upgrade your team with the least amount of downside and pursuing the thrill of the deal in order to get high from the buzz of the potential ceiling outcome.
This feature, like many I'm doing this year, is rooted in the idea of identifying players who could potentially outperform their current value for the rest of the year and, based on common public perceptions about their profile, could be acquired at a low enough cost to minimize the risk.
Minimizing risk doesn't mean there will be minimal risk, just less of it than there is with other players/scenarios.
When examing the past three weeks of the fantasy season, Chiefs' Mecole Hardman is the ninth-ranked PPR receiver during this span. Hardman and A.J. Brown lead NFL receivers with four touchdowns during this stretch. Hardman's 28 yards rushing doesn't sound like much, but it's the third-highest during this span behind Parris Campbell and Curtis Samuel.
Samuel is the 13th-ranked PPR receiver entering Week 10. Should we be valuing Hardman along a spectrum that includes Samuel as his rest-of-season upside?
Kansas City is a crowded receiver room that just added Kadarius Toney, a superb talent whose skills could allow him to fill Hardman's role and expand upon it. Will Toney overtake Hardman? If Toney acclimates quickly to the offense, is there room for him and Hardman to coexist as fantasy values this year?
Let's take these questions one at a time. First...
I've Never Been a Hardman Fan
Hardman earned a pre-draft grade as a high-end reserve whose score was on the cusp of being an immediate contributor as a role player in the 2019 Rookie Scouting Portfolio. Here's my quick run-down of how I viewed this class of slot receivers in order of where I ranked them:
- Marquise Brown - Although characterized as a deep-route specialist, I noted there was more than met the eye with his skill in high-traffic zones.
- Hunter Renfrow - I noted that he'd need a great fit but could deliver with a high-volume opportunity.
- Olamide Zaccheaus - Noted that his route running hinted at offering more promise than just as a short-area dump-off option. He has been a vertical threat in Atlanta.
- Penny Hart - He's stuck around in Seattle but hasn't done much for fantasy GMs.
- Greg Dortch - Liked him in the Brown-Zaccheau-Hard mold.
- Andy Isabella - I had questions about his ability to deliver against physical play.
- Hardman - I had questions about his ability to identify, communicate, and execute the subtleties asked of him in a traditional slot role.
Here are some key points from his scouting report:
- Obviously, his speed makes him a threat to defeat man-to-man coverage, playing him tight if he can avoid getting jammed.
- He sets up routes well enough to turn defenders around who play off-coverage and are threatened by his speed, which won't happen as often in the NFL.
- He attacks the ball well and tracks it over his shoulder, which makes him a capable vertical threat.
- He handles contact effectively at the catch point.
- He struggles to earn targets that aren't on his frame or with the flow of his break path.
- If he could find a team where he ran a lot of routes against off-coverage or zone coverage, his hands were good enough to mimic his value at Georgia but the idea of him becoming the next Tyreek Hill seems far too optimistic.
- Consistency as a route runner and playmaker in match-up scenarios was lacking and limited his ceiling to a big-play slot option who isn't regarded as the driving force of a receiving game.
I gave Hardman a healthy bump with my post-draft ranking because of his potential to perform in a Chiefs offense that could eventually maximize what he does best while minimizing the demand for him to be a primary match-up contributor who had to win against top man-to-man corners to generate value.
Still, I wasn't bullish on Hardman after the draft. I ranked him 16th overall on my board as the top player in my second tier. He would need time to become a contributor with consistent production and he might never reach a ceiling as a fantasy WR1-WR2 to count on year in and year out.
I'm still not convinced he'll ever merit that value long-term. However, Hardman has improved his game, and his role in the offense has fantasy value, especially this year.
Roll the tape.
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