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Here's how KJ Hamler will fit on the Broncos

Andrew Mason Avatar
April 25, 2020

DENVER — KJ Hamler, the Broncos’ second-round pick, pointed to former Penn State teammate DaeSean Hamilton as one of the people who had an impact on his development as a player.

But now the protege could be about to seize playing time from the mentor.

Hamler and Hamilton were together during the 2017 season at Penn State. Hamler was a true freshman learning how to apply his speed to the Big Ten, and Hamilton was a senior capping a career in which he amassed 2,842 yards on 214 receptions.

“He showed me the ropes as a freshman coming in at Penn State. I’ve always kept in touch with him,” Hamler said. “I’ve always looked up to him as a big brother.”

Now that “big brother” stands in Hamler’s way as he looks to gain playing time.

Hamler’s speed — unofficially timed at 4.27 seconds for the 40-yard dash — is why he’s a Bronco. His route-running ability should help him translate to the slot, where he could bring a particularly dangerous blend of skills that allows him to turn short passes into long gains.

Hamilton, a proficient route-runner who is four inches taller and 28 pounds heavier, is a different kind of slot receiver. And he closed last season with momentum, posting 191 yards and a touchdown on 17 catches after Drew Lock became the starting quarterback.

The drafting of Jerry Jeudy on Thursday night pushed Hamilton down to the No. 3 spot behind Jeudy and Courtland Sutton. Now Hamilton will likely fight for one spot in the Broncos’ primary rotation with Hamler.

To his credit, Hamilton has been a positive locker-room presence the last two years through the ups and downs. If Hamler wants a helping hand in learning the offense from his mentor, Hamilton will provide it, even as the two compete for repetitions.

“I’ve been talking to him throughout this process. I don’t know a lot, but DaeSean will help me out through it,” Hamler said. “He’s my big brother, my older brother. I know he’ll help me, and I’ll be under his wing learning.”

Whether it’s through work with Hamilton or on his own, one area in which Hamler must improve is in avoiding dropped passes. Pro Football Focus credited Hamiler with 16 drops of 114 catchable passes during his years at Penn State, a rate of one every 7.1 opportunities that will not be sustainable.

But if Hamler can improve there, his speed ensures that his possibilities are limitless, especially when paired with bigger targets all around in Sutton, Jeudy and tight end Noah Fant. Pat Shurmur’s emphasis on three-wide receiver sets will ensure that Hamler has plenty of opportunities if he can win the No. 3 job.

Hamler’s return ability could also put pressure on Diontae Spencer, who provided a jolt to the Broncos’ special teams last year when they claimed him off waivers from the Pittsburgh Steelers. But Spencer was one of the NFL’s best punt returners last year.

If it takes time for Hamler to establish an immediate role as a starting wide receiver in Shurmur’s three-wide set, special teams could be the area in which he makes a first impression.

But Hamler’s path is paved to a prime role on offense. All he has to do is capitalize, show his speed and reduce his drop rate.


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