The Kansas City Chiefs’ pass catchers outside of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were a concern heading into the 2021 season. With no more Sammy Watkins, there was debate as to who would step up as the No. 2 wide receiver, whether they be on the roster or a body they would bring in via free agency or trade.
Mecole Hardman was seemingly that guy. He played no lower than 49% of the offensive snaps per game through nine weeks, according to Pro Football Reference, reeling in 38 catches for 372 yards and a touchdown. However, poor ball control — Hardman has three fumbles this year — and overall inconsistent play as of late, along with the emergence of another wide receiver on the team, earned Hardman his lowest snap count of the season in Kansas City’s Week 10 win over the Las Vegas Raiders (24).
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On the flip side, the aforementioned wide receiver that has seemingly leap-frogged Hardman on the depth chart played a season-high snap total against the Chiefs’ division rivals, earning a 61% snap share in Week 10.
That player is Byron Pringle, and he’s turning heads nationally.
Pringle ‘Most Improved’ on Chiefs
After a rookie campaign in which he spent the entire season on injured reserve, Pringle has spent the past two seasons as a small part of Kansas City’s offense. In 2019, he caught 12 passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. In 2020, he caught 13 passes for 160 yards and another touchdown. But in 2021 he has already surpassed his season-long totals despite there being six games left to play.
Pringle has reeled 22 of 30 targets for 301 yards and three touchdowns through 10 games this season. 19 of those 22 receptions have resulted in first downs or touchdowns, according to Pro Football Reference. Pringle’s big-play ability despite a small target share, coupled with his exceptional work on special teams has earned him the trust of the coaching staff, which in turn has awarded him a larger workload.
This is also why Pringle is earning recognition from national media outlets for his improved play compared to his peers. Kristopher Knox of Bleacher Report named Pringle as the “most improved” player on the Chiefs roster this season after his Week 10 performance.
“Pringle, a 2018 undrafted free agent out of Kansas State, has steadily progressed over the years,” Knox wrote. “He spent his rookie season on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. He caught 12 passes for 170 yards in 2019 and 13 passes for 160 yards in 2020.
“This season, Pringle has become a fairly consistent piece of the offense. He’s played a career-high 39 percent of the offensive snaps and has become a dangerous deep threat in the mold of Hill and Kelce.”
Gordon Jumped Hardman as Well
To make matters worse for Hardman, he was not only leap-frogged by Pringle in Week 10, but he was also out-snapped by another veteran receiver: Josh Gordon.
Gordon — who has only caught one pass in the six games he’s played in this season — played 33 snaps against Las Vegas compared to Hardman’s 24, per Pro Football Reference. Although Gordon hasn’t produced catch-wise on the field during his tenure with Kansas City, head coach Andy Reid said the former All-Pro receiver is ready to “pop” soon.
“So, Josh [Gordon], his time is going to come as far as the production in the pass game. Right now, he’s attracting attention, which is opening up other people, which is a positive thing,” Reid said during his Monday, November 15 press conference. His blocking has been tremendous in the run game. He plays extremely hard. He’s got himself in the last week or two here in really good football shape. He’s been out of this thing for a couple years, so that’s easier said than done and I sure like what we saw in practice last week. I just keep telling him to be patient, it’s going to happen, just keep doing what you’re doing, this thing will pop for you. So, his time will come.”