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Broncos roster review: Rookie wide receiver KJ Hamler

The electrifying rookie adds some much needed speed and big play ability to the Broncos offense.

Rutgers v Penn State Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images

Name: K.J. Hamler
Position: Wide Receiver
Height: 5'9" Weight: 178
Age: 20 Experience: R
College: Penn State

After selecting Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft, they decided to double down on the position by selecting Penn State wide receiver K.J. Hamler with their 46th overall selection in the second round. Hamler brings the Broncos an explosive weapon out of the slot and someone you can house it whenever and however he touches the ball.

K.J. Hamler played a total of two seasons at Penn State and instantly became a weapon for their offense. During his two seasons at Penn State, Hamler totaled 98 receptions for 1,658 yards, and 13 receiving touchdowns. He also totaled 17 rushing attempts for 87 yards and 1 rushing touchdown. He was a weapon on special teams as well. He totaled 44 kick returns for 1,036 yards and averaged 23.5 yards per kick return. Hamler also returned 37 punts for 222 yards and averaged 6 yards per return.

This past season for Penn State, Hamler totaled 56 receptions for 904 yards, and 8 touchdowns. He added 13 rushing attempts for 43 yards as well. He returned 24 kicks for 513 yards and averaged 21.4 yards per return. He also returned 23 punts for 126 yards and averaged 5.5 yards per return.

Here are the awards and accolades that K.J. Hamler complied during his time with Penn State.

  • Selected Phil Steele All-Big Ten third team
  • Named All-Big Ten second team by the coaches and media on offense
  • Selected All-Big Ten honorable mention by the coaches and media as a return specialist
  • Tabbed Pro Football Focus All-Big Ten first team as a punt returner
  • Selected Pro Football Focus All-Big Ten honorable mention on offense
  • Named All-Big Ten second team as a receiver and all-purpose athlete by the Associated Press
  • Named the team’s Most Valuable Player at the team’s awards banquet
  • Earned All-ECAC Offensive honors
  • Named a Maxwell Award semifinalist
  • Selected Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week following the Michigan game (10/19)
  • Named to the Paul Hornung Award Honor Roll after the Michigan game
  • Selected to the Pro Football Focus National and Big Ten Team of the Week first team following the Michigan game
  • Named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week second team following the Iowa game (10/12)
  • Selected to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week second team following the Purdue game (10/5)
  • Named to the Pro Football Focus Big Ten Team of the Week first team after the Maryland game (9/27)
  • Selected to the preseason Biletnikoff Award watch list
  • Tabbed on the preseason Paul Hornung Award watch list.

Here is what The Athletic’s Dane Brugler had to say about Broncos wide receiver K.J. Hamler in his annual draft guide.

Summary: A two-year starter at Penn State, Hamler was the “Y” receiver in former offensive coordinator Ricky Rahne’s scheme, lining up inside and outside. He became the seventh player in school history to reach 900 yards receiving in a season, although he posted a disappointingly low catch rate (61.2%) and tied for the FBS-lead in drops (12) in 2019. A jitterbug athlete, Hamler is tough to corral due to his burst and balance, showing the twitch at the top of routes that makes him a nightmare to cover man-to-man. However, he will struggle vs. physical corners, competing with better confidence than play strength. Overall, Hamler’s diminutive size and shaky focus could limit the way he is deployed in an NFL offense, but his explosive speed has the potential to light up the scoreboard, projecting as highupside playmaker in the slot.

Here is what Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway had to say about the Hamler selection during his press conference after day two of the 2020 NFL Draft.

“Obviously with Hamler, he’s very, very explosive, really can run and has big play ability. A guy like as Vic would say, scares the heck out of defenses. Plus, he has the ability to run routes, he’s quick, he’s tough and again you can go back and say he is a great returner. We’ll have to go back and see how much he does return, but he does have that ability. He’s a tough guy for his size. He’s a guy that can really run and that’s why we’re excited about him.”

I think we will see Hamler start at slot receiver for the Broncos and likely contribute as a returner in some sort of fashion at times throughout the season. His explosiveness gives Drew Lock and the Broncos offense another weapon in an offense that is suddenly full of playmakers at every position now.

Michigan v Penn State Photo by Brett Carlsen/Getty Images

I am pretty excited about what Hamler can do in an offense where he won’t be the main focus of the defense. He can fly under the radar a bit which is a bit tough, especially for someone with his speed, but it’s possible in this offense.

The Good

Hamler has that elite speed and quickness. He was unable to run a 40-time because of a tweaked hamstring which sidelined him during the NFL Scouting Combine, but his tape speaks for itself.

With teams unable to clock Hamler’s 40-time, Denver Broncos General Manager John Elway got a bit creative with this process. He told Peter King that he clocked Hamler’s 100-yard kick return vs. Michigan and timed him at a ridicilous 3.93 40-time.

“He had a 100-yard kick return against Michigan, and so we just figured we’d time him [in a 40-yard interval] on that play. We timed him at 3.93 in the 40, but of course he had a running start. He just has a different speed than anyone else. This has become such a speed game. Watch Kansas City. We love Courtland [Sutton], we love [Jerry] Jeudy. Get Hamler in the slot against quarters coverage, releasing upfield at 4.3 or 4.32 speed, and that’s going to put a lot of pressure on the safeties, I know that.”

Now, Hamler would not run a 3.93 40-time, but he does have elite speed and quickness that he showcases on his tape all the time. He is more often than not the fastest player on the field week in and week out. This gives the Broncos an element they were lacking and were looking to add to their offense this offseason.

What gets me really excited about this selection is the addition of Jerry Jeudy. I say this because he makes the Hamler addition a bit of a luxury. He wasn’t necessarily needed, but adding his explosiveness to an offense that already added a freak in Jerry Jeudy to an offense that already has Courtland Sutton, Noah Fant, and a two-headed rushing attack, and yeah, he’s a bit of a luxury.

Elway touched on this in his quote above. You have Sutton and Jeudy on the outside getting the focus of the offense and a freak at tight end. This leaves a safety, or the team’s third or fourth-best corner to cover Hamler. This also puts a ton of pressure on the safeties because he can split them and chase down a Drew Lock deep ball for a big play or touchdown. Or, the opposite happens, teams try to contain Hamler from beating them deep which allows Sutton or Jeudy to do their thing on the outside or opens up Fant to do damage in the middle of the field.

If all these players live up to their potential, this offense could be VERY dangerous,

Hamler also allows you to add trick plays into your offense. Jet sweeps, end-around, creative screens, and so on. Just give him the ball in space, and let him do his thing. The Jet Sweeps figure to happen a good bit in my opinion. Have Hamler already on the move and getting up to speed faster while the defense is flat-footed. Fakes off this play could open up plays for other players as well. His speed alone will give defensive coordinators nightmares all week while game-planning for this offense.

Now, Hamler can do more than just be a weapon on offense, he can also be a dangerous return man. However, Diontae Spencer and Hamler’s potential role on offense could keep from doing that full-time in the NFL according to Head Coach Vic Fangio.

“We talked about that too in draft meetings. He obviously can do it in certain situations both kicks and punt. I haven’t seen many players over the years once they develop into a really good player and a primary starter do it on a full-time basis around the league. We’ll see how that goes. If he develops into where he’s getting a lot of playing time on offense that maybe it won’t happen, but if he’s not getting a lot of playing time on offense early on then maybe he can be a returner. We like Spence (WR Diontae Spencer) as our returner too. It will take a lot for us to not still have Spence to do that too. We feel good about our return game with both KJ and Spence.”

With the rosters expanding, I think we’ll see Spencer make the team which would allow Hamler to focus on offensive side of the ball more. Either way, Hamler adds a much needed explosive element to the Broncos offense.

The Bad

Unfortunately, there is some bad in his game which is mainly dropped passes. It is something that has plagued him throughout his college career and something he will need to improve on in the NFL if he wants to live up his potential.

General Manager John Elway spoke about this during his post day two press conference and told reporters he thinks that this issue is correctable and that he had concentration mishaps instead of poor ball skills.

“Yeah, he did. That was something that we looked at. I think that when you looked at his ability to catch the ball, it’s not because he doesn’t have good ball skills. Obviously, he’s got just the concentration drops which are the easy drops that you don’t concentrate looking in. We felt those are things that are very obviously coachable. He’ll be on that jugs machine as much as all of those guys. Courtland will be the guy leading them, getting them on the jug machine. When we looked at KJ in practice with those drops they weren’t because he had bad ball skills. They were because he didn’t concentrate watching it. That was something that we felt like, in talking to Vic, that we could coach and made him better with that. Even though he did have some drops we felt like we could coach him through that, and he could get better with it.”

One of his other bigger weaknesses is that he body catches a lot of passes which gives him some issues. Hopefully this is something he can fix with some coaching and leadership from fellow teammate and wide receiver, Courtland Sutton.

Another concern for me is his catch radius. He’s not the biggest guy and he doesn’t have the longest arms, so the window to fit a ball in is a bit smaller for him than it would be for Sutton or Jeudy. This is typical for most slot receivers in the NFL, but still something he will need to work through as he develops in the NFL.

As it goes with most undersized and smaller framed players, durability is always a concern. Today’s NFL makes life a bit safer for these types of players, but still, the wear and tear on his smallish frame is something to watch. It’s not a huge concern of mine, but something to monitor throughout his career.

Final Thoughts

The addition of Hamler was a luxury pick by the Broncos and on that excites me a good deal.

He will not be facing the top defenders on an opposing defense and the attention of the defense will most likely be on Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, and Noah Fant. So this should allow Hamler to be in many favorable matchups throughout the season and in a great position to make some big-time plays for the Broncos defense.

Add in the “gadget” plays you can utilize him in like jet sweeps, end-around plays, the screen game, and so on just adds an extra dynamic layer to the Broncos new and improved offense.

If Jeudy, Fant, and Hamler develop into or close to the players we and the Broncos expect them to be joining a stud in Courtland Sutton and a dangerous two-headed rushing attack and you have the makings of a high-powered offense that just might be able to challenge Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs. A lot has to go right for that to happen, but the possibility for that to happen is there.