KJ Hamler: The Draft Pick No One Is Talking About

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    By: Zuha Islam

    “With the 15th pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos select Jerry Jeudy, wide receiver, Alabama,” announced Roger Goodell on the first draft night.

    When Broncos fans found out Jeudy fell to their pick, they were beyond ecstatic. Projected as the WR1 by many scouts in a stacked 2020 draft class, they got him without having to trade up. Next round, they picked another wide receiver in KJ Hamler, a route-running speedster out of Penn State, however, with Jeudy being picked, the top-notch value the Broncos got in KJ Hamler was often overlooked by many. However, Hamler is more than your average 2nd round receiver.

    Hamler grew up in Pontiac, Michigan, where he was a two-year letterman at St. Mary’s Preparatory School in Orchard Lake, Michigan, but in his senior year of high school, he moved to Florida to play high school football at IMG Academy. He committed to Penn State, where he would redshirt his freshman year due to a torn ACL the previous year, but his next year, he would make 13 starts, making 4+ receptions in 6 of those games, finishing with 754 yards and 5 touchdowns on 42 receptions, including a 100 yard game versus Ohio State against corners like Jeffrey Okudah, the number 3 pick this year. Along with the 754 receiving yards, Hamler compiled 619 yards on kick/punt returns. His sophomore season would show even more growth and improvement however, with him finishing with 56 receptions for 904 yards and 8 touchdowns, including 4 games where he would go over 100 yards, as well as another 639 yards on kick/punt returns.

    There are many things to like about Hamler’s game, with his most eye-popping trait being his blazing speed. Hamler’s speed was overlooked by many scouts due to other speedsters in this draft class such as Henry Ruggs stealing the show with a 4.28 40 yard dash, as well as a hamstring injury preventing him from running it at the combine. However, Hamler claims to run a 4.27 40, and I would not be surprised if that was accurate, as it shows up in his game film. Whenever he’s on my computer screen, it looks like the corner is always a step behind, which brings me to my next point: his route-running.

    Hamler dashes past Ohio State corner Isaiah Pryor for the touchdown. (via Patrick Mansell)

    While speed does usually kill, it’s not everything, and that is especially evident in the NFL when you look at players such as Dri Archer. But as a wide receiver in the NFL, if you combine that speed with strong route running, you get results such as Tyreek Hill and Odell Beckham Jr. Hamler is an exquisite route runner, often leaving corners to their feet, using his speed and explosively cutting out or in to find himself open. Hamler’s IQ is also underrated, as you’ll often find him sitting open in a zone’s dead spot and moving with his quarterback to help extend the play. His burst makes defenders have to respect his speed, and even that is not enough, because of his RAC ability.

    Hamler is not only deadly before the catch, but he is after the catch as well. Think of the human joystick ability in Madden. Hamler plays like that ability in real life, making defenders look silly, and his physicality will sometimes surprise you when he has the football in his hands. Because of this, Hamler was even given snaps in the backfield and can even work out as a solid gadget option.

    Hamler at the NFL combine. (via Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

    Even Hamler’s contested catch ability is underrated, as he is able to sit in zones and keep plays alive as mentioned before. While he mainly thrives on getting open, his ability to catch in traffic, at least when he’s not at risk of being hit in the open field, is solid and can definitely be worked on, and considering his 5’8″ 178 pound build, it’s not bad.

    While Hamler has success in these areas, he does have some weaknesses in areas such as catching and much of that come from his lack of physicality and size. While Sean Clifford was a freshman and Trace McSorley wasn’t a standout passer in college, you would see that Hamler generally does body catch a little too much than you would like, and he would also would show on film that he avoided contact which caused him to drop the football, leading to a high drop percentage showing up. There were times where Hamler should’ve held on to the football coming his way and take the hit at the same time, and some concentration drops. However, I think this is fixable as long as he puts on some muscle.

    It is generally true that small receivers do have to adopt to the physicality of the NFL. For example, DeSean Jackson and Marquise Brown both came into the NFL under 170 pounds, and both put on weight. Brown is heading into the 2020 season bulking up from 165 to 180 pounds, while Jackson bulked up over time as well and is now in his 13th season, while you also have wide receivers like Steve Smith, who simply adopted, being one of the most physical wide receivers for his size. However, Hamler already enters this season at 178 pounds, giving him an easier opportunity.

    Hamler poses in his new Broncos uniform for Media Day. (via @broncos/instagram)

    Finally, entering Denver’s offense, it seems like he landed in the perfect place, with Denver having two outside receivers in Jerry Jeudy and Courtland Sutton, landing him a spot in the slot role, which is perfect for a light speed receiver like Hamler. Not only that, but Jeudy’s ability to play slot will give him some opportunity to play outside, allowing him to develop as a complete NFL wide receiver. With defenses having to keep their eyes on pro bowler Courtland Sutton and top prospect Jerry Jeudy, defenses could let Hamler off easy, giving Hamler the opportunity to either show off his explosive ability after the catch or burn defenses over the top.

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