When you consider how Elway made it clear at the beginning of the 2020 offseason that speed would be a priority, KJ Hamler makes all the sense in the world. Few can match the type of explosive athleticism the Nittany Lion brings to the table. But to get an idea of what else he offers the Denver Broncos I reached out to Black Shoe Diaries’ Jared Slanina, who covered Hamler during his collegiate career.
1st and 10
How would you define KJ Hamler’s time with the Nittany Lions?
Slanina: In a word, electric. I named Hamler as the MVP of his first game in a Penn State uniform, and he never looked back. He was by far Penn State’s most dangerous weapon during the past two seasons, and someone who was always a threat to score whenever the ball was in his hands. Whether it be a reverse, fade route, screen, over the middle, kickoff return- you just kind of held your breath whenever the ball was going to Hamler. He reminded me very much of Ted Ginn Jr. at Ohio State. Hamler really stood out as not only the best playermaker on the Penn State offense, but the best player on either side of the field most weeks.
2nd and 7
What do you believe he brings the Denver Broncos? Should fans be excited?
Slanina: Pure, blinding speed. He’s not just a track guy though. He knows how to use his speed to cause separation from defenders, not just race past them (although he does plenty of that too). He’s a complete receiver that can handle everything on the route tree, and has very reliable hands. He will also be a stellar return man, with the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. I’m certain there will be a play in the first couple weeks where Hamler makes a single cut and is just gone, racing to the end zone with no one close to him. That will be the first taste for Broncos fans, and the excitement will grow from there.
The most exciting part of Hamler joining the Broncos is the outstanding collection of young pass-catchers he will be joining. Hamler was THE GUY during his two seasons at Penn State. Defensive coordinators quickly learned to put their focus on slowing down Hamler and letting the rest of the offense try to make up for it. I don’t see that as an option in Denver with Jerry Jeudy, Courtland Sutton and Noah Fant to worry about. If Pat Schumer uses him properly, Hamler should have all kinds of opportunities to exploit mismatches, and just flat out race past defenders in single coverage. I’ll certainly go out of my way to watch the Broncos this fall, as this could really quickly become a very fun offense to watch.
As far as KJ the person, I’ve only heard positive things. It’s obvious his teammates had a lot of love for him, and he was known for an intense work ethic and drive to keep getting better. He’s also a jubilant, comical guy - James Franklin liked to joke that the only thing faster than KJ’s feet was his mouth. I could see him becoming a fan-favorite in Denver by the end of the season.
If Hamler hits, he'll wind up being such a terror due to his explosiveness. Even without the ball defenses will have to account for him which will help every other member of the #Broncos offense. https://t.co/OoNvbDq4R2— Joe Rowles (@JoRo_NFL) April 27, 2020
3rd and 3
Are there any things we should be concerned about as he enters the NFL?
Slanina: The only thing that comes to mind is his size. he was measured at just under 5-9, and 178 lbs. at the Combine. However, he has more toughness packed in him than any 6-5, 220 lb. wide receiver I’ve seen. He faced off against some of the most physical defenses in the nation the past two seasons, and always absorbed brutal hits and just popped right back up. I don’t know how he did it, but he always seemed unfazed and ran right back to the huddle.
One defining display of his toughness was toward the end of the 2019 Michigan game. Penn State was clinging to a 28-21 lead, and needed a first down to run out the clock. If they were stopped, they would be forced to punt out of their own end zone. With Michigan’s offense coming alive and finding some holes in the Penn State defense late, it was a true do-or-die moment. So what’s the call on third-and-3? A handoff to KJ right up the middle, of course. KJ took the ball, lowered his shoulder into the teeth of a very talented Michigan front seven, and dragged the pile forward to pick up the first down. After running circles around the Michigan defense all night, he ultimately ended the game with a simple run up the gut.
Hamler was magical against Michigan, hauling in six receptions for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Whether it was the biggest of plays (53-yard touchdown reception) or the smallest of plays (tough 4-yard run to pick up the game-winning first down), Hamler came up big when Penn State needed him most.
4th and inches
If you had to boil it down to one play, what will be your lasting memory of him?
Slanina: There are many options here, but I will go with his 93-yard touchdown reception against Ohio State. It shows what a true difference-maker he can be. It’s third-and-five from the Penn State seven, and it looks like the Nittany Lions are about to give outstanding field position to an uber-talented Buckeyes offense. Instead, he takes a simple play and turns it into a 93-yard touchdown, easily creating what could have been a 14-point swing. He also does it against a defense filled with 5-star recruits and future high NFL draft picks.
He’s the type of playmaker who can make the difference between a win or a loss in a tight game. He did it at Penn State on many occasions, and sure he’ll continue to do so in Denver with some timely heroics.