ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As a rookie, wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton caught passes in seven games.
He started five contests and tallied at least five catches in four different games.
He hauled in 30 total catches for 243 yards — an average of 8.1 yards per catch — and scored two touchdowns.
None of it was good enough for the 2018 fourth-round pick from Penn State.
"It was actually just a little bit below the standard that I had for myself," Hamilton said Tuesday. "Obviously, I was rookie last year so I didn't know what to expect essentially, but I had big goals and big aspirations for myself.
"… The standards and expectations that I set for myself last year, at least in my standards, I didn't meet them."
He started the season behind both Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders. Thomas was dealt to the Texans ahead of the November trade deadline, and Sanders was injured ahead of the Broncos' Week 13 game against the 49ers. Sanders' injury elevated to Hamilton to No. 2 on the depth chart behind Courtland Sutton, and it gave the former Nittany Lion his first real opportunity.
Making his second start, Hamilton caught seven passes for 47 yards and a touchdown against San Francisco.
Even as Hamilton began to find more opportunities — he was targeted at least eight times in each of the final four games of the season — he still dealt with a nagging knee injury that he suffered against the Cardinals in Week 7.
Hamilton did not play again until a Week 10 game against the Chargers, and he said Wednesday he felt the effects through the end of the season.
"The knee was still bothering me," Hamilton said. "I was probably playing at like 70, 80 percent in those last couple games. It wasn't too much longer after the Chargers game [in Week 17] that the knee started to feel a lot better. Now I'm coming out here it feels great. The last four or five games, I probably felt it the most."
Hamilton said the injury made him feel like his rookie season was cut short.
He's healthy now, though, and he spent this offseason training to get his body prepared for a 16-game season.
That's left him ready to make an impact for a team that didn't pick up a wide receiver in free agency and waited until the sixth round to pick one in the draft.
Regardless of whether Sanders is ready for a Week 1 contest against the Raiders, it's clear Hamilton should see a role similar to the one he adopted toward the end of the season.
"Even if [the Broncos] don't have that sense right now, I have that sense for myself," Hamilton said. "I paid attention to the draft just as much as anyone else did. Them not picking a receiver until later wasn't really anything that I was worried about. I just knew, coming off last season, that I just wanted to basically go after that and be 10 times better this season. Whatever position that puts me in, if I perform during training camp, coach is going to see that I have a lot more reliability and he can put more reliability on guys like myself and Courtland going forward. I took notice of it, but I've just been working the same way as if I was a rookie. I'm trying to continue to make my mark and make a splash on this team myself."
Offensive Coordinator Rich Scangarello's system could give Hamilton the opportunity to make that splash. Hamilton said he's running more routes this year than he did as a rookie and that Scangarello has put him in a position to "find open spaces." That, Hamilton said, gives him the chance to use his football IQ.
And Hamilton doesn't sound like a player who is going to let this opportunity go to waste.
"I've played football all of my life," Hamilton said. "It's something that I have really invested the majority of my time in. Whether I'm at the facility or whether I'm at home, really one of the only things I think about is football and stuff like that and being successful at what I do. It's really just my motivation and I guess my mindset that I've always had that I'm going to do whatever it takes. I need to do whatever it takes, so that I can live up to the goals that I set for myself, the high standards that I want to go at for myself."