Rod Smith Reveals why Broncos' Rookie WR KJ Hamler is a 'Game-Changer'
Most folks in Broncos Country are extremely high on John Elway’s 2020 draft class, which was top-loaded in consecutive rounds with potentially game-changing wide receiver talent. First-round pick Jerry Jeudy’s ability to run super tight routes and Velcro hands distinguish him as an excellent complement to the size and strength of Broncos' WR1 Courtland Sutton on the other side.
On Thursday, Broncos' Ring-of-Fame Rod Smith joined Phil Milani of the team site to dissect the abundance of wide receiver skills the team has added to its offense. After studying the tape of second-round pick KJ Hamler, Smith's hot take should provide another jolt of optimistic energy to Broncos fans.
“I don’t know what he runs the 40 in, but I can tell you it’s extremely fast," Smith told Milani. "So, those guys are game-changers in the NFL just now, that smaller receiver in the slot. I was like, 'Man, we’ve got one.'"
Some draft experts have criticized Elway for reaching too early when he used the No. 46 overall pick on the Penn State play-maker. Such draftniks have cited the concentration issues that led to an inordinate number of dropped passes in college, and perhaps even more damaging, Hamler's relative lack of size at 5-foot-9 and only 176 pounds.
As the Broncos' all-time leading receiver, Smith knows a thing or two about playing the position. One of the few undrafted receivers to eclipse the 10,000-yard mark during his prolific career, the NFL veteran of 14 years and back-to-back World Champion brings a unique perspective to analyzing the Broncos' new blood at the position.
While many analysts feel Hamler’s more diminutive stature could well be his Achilles heel at the pro level, Smith sees it as being a tangible advantage.
“That’s it, that’s his advantage," Smith said. "He is smaller. If you notice while I was telling how to play smaller, you got DBs who are bigger, stronger…and these guys got good footwork as well. But he can get underneath them. What I mean by underneath them, playing with strength, playing with power. And like I say, his stride is perfect, man. He has the perfect stride for running routes. Getting in and out of cuts, he’s got that wiggle.”
Smith is excited about all the physical tools that he's seen on Hamler’s game film from college which could well make him Drew Lock’s home-run threat this coming season if things pan out. Putting that explosive package into a polished and savvy receiver is the task at hand for Broncos' WRs Coach Zach Azzanni.
The onus, obviously, is on Hamler to develop but his coach will have a significant impact on how quickly that happens. With his speed being so dangerous, Smith stressed the importance of Hamler consuming chunks of yards first before they turn into long balls.
“When he catches the ball in space, for him, the thing is going to be, 'Hey, get up there get two more, get five more, get seven more'. And if they absolutely miss, it’s gone,” Smith said.
Elway has retooled the Broncos' receiving corps in recent times with both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders jettisoned in back-to-back years. Even with the arrival of new options to replace them, Smith highlighted Sutton as the man who must step up to become the veteran voice in the WR room.
“As the leader of that group now, because he is—we are not paying him to just catch passes anymore," Smith said. "He has to step into that leadership role of that group."
Long have the Broncos searched for a genuinely game-altering receiver who can flip the field on one big play. Smith finished off his discussion with Milani by giving props to the Broncos' front office for being bold and aggressive in equipping the new offense with explosive talents like Hamler and Co.
“Shout out to the organization for bringing in the guys that you brought in " Smith said. "The scouting department with [Director of Player Personnel] Matt [Russell] and [GM] John [Elway], and all those guys said, 'Hey, listen, we are on the hunt to win now; let’s go and get the talent to do it.'”
It's going to be fun to see how all these pieces fit together.