The Denver Broncos approached the 2019 off-season with one goal in mind: surround second-year quarterback Drew Lock with offensive weapons. The Broncos drafted wide receiver Jerry Jeudy 15th overall with their first-round selection in the 2020 NFL Draft. General manager John Elway decided to add more speed by selecting rookie WR KJ Hamler with the team’s second-round pick. In 2020, Hamler will play an imperative role for the Broncos offensively, in their attempt to score more points.
Hamler will be the focus of today’s ‘Under The Microscope’ series as we continue to analyze the Broncos rookies, and what their path towards playing time will be in 2020.
How will KJ Hamler help the Broncos at WR during his rookie season?
The Broncos offense struggled in various categories of production in 2019. Offensively, they ranked 28th in Net Yards Per Game (298.6), 26th in Yards Per Play (5.0), 28th in Points Per Game (17.6), 30th on Third Down Pct. (31.7%), and 28th in Red Zone Pct. (47.6%) in 2019. These are areas where the Broncos will need to improve on in 2020 if they hope to compete against the Kansas City Chiefs and the rest of the AFC West.
The traits that Hamler possesses at the WR position could help the Broncos improve in those offensive categories listed above. His 4.3 speed will be important for opposing defensive coordinators to account for regardless if Hamler lines up in the slot or on the outside. Despite Hamler’s size at 5’9, he doesn’t avoid contact as a blocker in run support.
As a route runner, Hamler is well-established when it comes to out-breaking routes, routes that require him to break inside, and those that expand across the middle of the field and the vertical seams. His combination of speed and his route-running ability will make him a focal point against opposing defenses in 2020.
Some of the early concerns with Hamler surrounded the dropped passes that he had while at Penn State. Elway discussed these concerns in his post-draft press conference shortly after the team selected Hamler 46th overall.
“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.”
Due to the pandemic impacted off-season, Hamler is one of many rookies across the National Football League who didn’t get the opportunity to participate in OTAs or voluntary workouts at their team’s facilities. It’s expected for many Broncos rookies that there will be an adjustment period that could impact how fast some of them do see the field once the season begins in September.
Without an NFL preseason, players like Hamler will have to impress coaches and demonstrate knowledge of the playbook, landmarks with route concepts, and reliability as a blocker and receiver during the Broncos 14 padded practices leading up to their Week 1 home opener against the Tennessee Titans.
Despite the position depth, what is the path towards playing time for Broncos rookie WR KJ Hamler?
The Broncos will enter 2020 with Courtland Sutton as the team’s number one receiving threat. Jeudy is expected to be the Broncos number two WR behind Sutton, which creates competition for the team’s third spot on the depth chart at WR. Hamler, Tim Patrick, and DaeSean Hamilton will be competing for time on the field opposite Sutton and Jeudy.
In order for Hamler to see time on the field in offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur’s offense which relies a lot on three WR sets, he’ll have to demonstrate his understanding of the offense’s play calls, alignment in the slot or on the outside, and execute consistently in during practice.
If Hamler doesn’t begin the season as the Broncos third WR, he will likely be utilized as a gadget-type player as he builds up more comfortability within the offense. Shurmur’s offense incorporates various concepts like reverses and jet motions, which aligns well with Hamler’s skillset as a player, due to his speed and presence on the football field.
Once Hamler becomes more acclimated on the field at the receiver position in the Broncos offense, he can become a key contributor in 2020. If Hamler does become a starter during his rookie season, the Broncos will find ways to attack opposing defenses downfield. As the Broncos look to improve statistically on offense in 2020, Hamler could become one of the key players that helps the team improve on third down, in the red-zone, and help them score more points.
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