As we approach the postseason for the Kansas City Chiefs, a few questions still need answers before play begins for the Chiefs. One of those big questions is what the Chiefs will do at KR/PR? We all know special teams can determine the outcome of games as much as people ignore that aspect. The Chiefs have a significant issue right now in the return game. Mecole Hardman isn't cutting it.
Before diving into some suggestions let's just talk about Hardman this season. Hardman hasn't progressed much as a receiver and struggles with drops mightily. For whatever reason he can't ear snaps with the offense so it seems as if the coaching staff continues to stick him at returner in an attempt to get him involved in the game. It hasn't been great. Here are Hardman's return numbers this year:
Kick Return: 20.4 Yard average (shorter than a touchback),
Punt Return: 7.3 yard average, only one 20+ return, only one 40+ return (Miami), and a fumble.
Those aren't great numbers and something the numbers don't show are the maddening antics Hardman typically does on returns like fair catching inside 10 yards or trying to return it when he is already smothered. It's clearly evident the Hardman experience at the returner spot isn't working as he doesn't have great field vision or instincts. The only thing he has going for him is his speed.
Some of the blame has to go to special teams coordinator Dave Toub. This is how he coaches his players. He has told them for years to try and return it if they feel like they can score and of course someone like Hardman is going to go for the score almost every time.
So, what should the Chiefs do to improve this part of their game? Well, we've already seen Demarcus Robinson back there and that was a complete disaster and you don't want a key starter like Tyreek Hill or L'Jarius Sneed handling return duties in risk of getting hurt. However, there's one name that has already shown to be effective in the department that can take over the returner spot full-time. Byron Pringle.
Byron Pringle actually looked to be the guy for a minute after a 108-yard kick return touchdown against the Denver Broncos earlier in the season. Unfortunately, Pringle went to IR with an ankle injury and has been working his way back slowly. Hopefully he'll be ready to take some kickoffs by the divisional matchup because the Chiefs will need it. This year on kick returns, Pringle is averaging 32.4 yards a return with 8 run backs over 20 yards and a touchdown to go with it. More importantly, Pringle doesn't have any turnovers.
It's somewhat disappointing we're having to talk about an undrafted free agent overtaking your second-year top-100 pick in both receiving and returning but we are. Pringle has just been flat out more impressive. Hardman is seen as more of a threat because of the name and the speed, but in reality Pringle is probably the safer option going into the playoffs. Hardman should remain a gadget player for the offense for now.