On the second day of the NFL Draft, the Denver Broncos selected WR KJ Hamler in the second round with pick No. 46. Hamler is the second wideout selected by GM John Elway less than 24 hours after the Broncos drafted Jerry Jeudy at pick 15.
While many analysts, including myself, expected Elway to go defense in round two (CB or LB), the bold GM doubled down on offense.
Why Elway Doubled Up at WR
After learning Denver was slated to select Hamler, I’m going to be honest, my reaction was lukewarm. I never projected the Broncos to select a WR back-to-back, especially when the latter of the two receivers is 5-foot-9, 178-pounds. The Hamler selection telegraphs that the Broncos felt very discouraged with their current WR room.
By drafting Hamler, the Broncos are attempting to fight fire with fire. The reigning World Champion Kansas City Chiefs boast speed-demon Tyreek Hill, and the Raiders just drafted the lightning-quick Henry Ruggs. Hamler possesses comparable speed to his AFC West division rivals as a slot WR.
In 2019, he played 616 out of 694 snaps at the slot WR position. While his route running is raw and undefined, Hamler has the potential to make plays after the catch. He did not run the 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine, but some suggest he could be as fast if not faster than Ruggs (4.27 seconds).
For better or worse, Hamler has drawn comparisons to former Cowboys WR Tavon Austin. At Penn State, Hamler played in 26 games logging 98 receptions for 1,658 yards (16.9 yd avg) and scoring 13 touchdowns. He was also utilized in the rushing attack with 17 rushes for 87 yards and a touchdown.
Hamler’s also a kick-return specialist that utilizes his agility to stretch the field horizontally. While he never scored a touchdown on special teams in college, he recorded 44 kickoff returns for 1,036 yards (averaging 23.5 yds per return). As a punt returner, he returned 37 punts for 222 yards (6.0 yds avg).
The Concerns with Hamler
While the player the Broncos just drafted might already be the fastest in the WR room, drops are a major concern for Hamler. At Penn State, he finished his career with a total of 16 drops, and his drop rate (16.9%) was among the worst in the entire WR draft class.
In OC Pat Shurmur’s spread-offense, Hamler will be expected to move the chains from the slot position. By utilizing Hamler’s speed in simple slant routes, second-year QB Drew Lock should be releasing the ball very quickly.
Hamler will need to develop a relationship with Lock but must prove that he can consistently secure the ball. During his introductory zoom press conference, Hamler was the first to point out his underdog mentality.
“I don’t back down from anybody," Hamler said on Friday night. "I’ve been doubted my whole life because of my size.”
While Hamler did manage to bench press an impressive 15 reps (225 pounds) at the Combine, he could be the smallest player on the Broncos' roster this fall. Because he plays in the slot position, he should expect collisions with linebackers, safeties, and sometimes defensive linemen that are twice his size.
Although he made it through his college career relatively unscathed, he arrived at Penn State with an ACL tear. Because of the injury, Hamler red-shirted his freshman year before starting all 13 games of the 2018 season.
Durability is a concern for any NFL player, but that’s especially true for the small (no pun intended) percentage of undersized players that operate lengthy careers.
Current Broncos WRs Put on Notice
In 48 hours, the Broncos have all but signaled the end for some wideouts in Denver. Tim Patrick, DaeSean Hamilton and even Pro Bowl alternate return specialist Diontae Spencer have heard the message sent loud and clear.
Hamler already knows some current Broncos' WRs and spoke about them during his zoom press conference.
“I know Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, who was my teammate my freshman year," Hamler said. "That’s been my big brother. I’ve been talking to him throughout this process. He’s my big brother, my older brother. So I know he’ll help me and I’ll be under his wing learning.”
Hamler elaborated, “He showed me the ropes as a freshman coming in at Penn State. I’ve always kept in touch with him.”
A very respectful and kind gesture to show respect and props to his former teammate, Hamler could very well be replacing Hamilton. Coming into his third season with the Broncos, Hamilton has underperformed, only recording 28 receptions for 297 yards (10.6 yd avg) and one touchdown in 30 games.
Drops and inconsistent route running have plagued Hamilton from producing for the Broncos offense. Whether you like the Hamler selection or not, the Broncos' WR room has been remixed. This undoubtedly shows that Elway’s anticipating a postseason run with Lock with the addition of back-to-back WRs to pen the draft.