ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — If Jerry Jeudy added to the Broncos' receiving corps, KJ Hamler then transformed it.
When the Broncos drafted Hamler with the 46th-overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, they added a player with explosive speed and more positional versatility.
With Hamler on the roster, the Broncos now have a fully built-out receiving corps. In Courtland Sutton, Denver has a proven Pro Bowler with a 6-foot-4 frame and the ability to box out cornerbacks to make jaw-dropping catches. In Jeudy, the Broncos have a player with tremendous route-running ability. And in Hamler, Denver has next-level speed.
Though Hamler didn't run at the 2020 NFL Combine because of a tweaked hamstring, he said he previously posted a 4.27-second 40-yard dash. On film, he's even faster. Once he reaches full speed, he's hard to catch up to. During a 100-yard kick return against Michigan, the Broncos timed Hamler in one 40-yard stretch and clocked him at 3.93 seconds.
That speed often translated into big plays for Penn State. Hamler posted 33 catches of at least 20 yards during his two seasons with the Nittany Lions. He also recorded 14 catches of 30 yards or more, eight catches of 40 yards or more and four catches of at least 50 yards. Three of those catches of 50 yards came last season, as Hamler led the team in receiving yards for the second consecutive season.
That big-play ability should translate to Offensive Coordinator Pat Shurmur's system, in which he prioritizes chunk plays in the passing game. Only five teams made more plays of 20 or more yards than Shurmur's Giants over the previous two seasons.
The Broncos could use that upgrade. In 2019, the Broncos ranked 25th in passing plays of 20 or more yards and 21st in rushing plays with the same qualifier.
Hamler attempted just 17 rushes during his two seasons in Happy Valley, so it's unlikely that will become a defining part of his game. Even the threat of Hamler's speed, though, could force defenses to honor the possibility of him taking the ball on a jet sweep or reverse.
Early on, it seems likely that Hamler will compete with Tim Patrick for snaps. They wouldn't necessarily play the same position, but the combination of receivers on the field in a three-receiver set could change depending on Hamler's readiness. If Hamler proves his readiness early on, the Broncos could line Sutton and Jeudy up outside and put Hamler in the slot. Otherwise, Denver might put Jeudy in the slot and have Sutton and Patrick as the outside options.
Hamler, who caught 98 passes for 1,658 yards and 13 touchdowns in two seasons, said after the draft that he can play both the outside and inside receiver positions. At the NFL level, though, it seems most likely that he'll line up in the slot.
He and former Penn State teammate DaeSean Hamilton may have the true competition for the slot position.
And while Hamler may end up with the fourth-most targets on the team — Sutton, Jeudy and Noah Fant seem likely to finish above him — he'll still demand respect at all times. And if teams ignore Hamler, he has the speed and ability to score an 80-yard touchdown.
In either event, his straight-line speed should put pressure on opponents' deep safeties as Sutton and Jeudy work underneath. And with an improved passing game, that should also help Melvin Gordon and Phillip Lindsay find easier running lanes.
While some may be concerned about Hamler's 5-foot-9, 178-pound frame, he held up while at Penn State. Hamler started all 26 of the Nittany Lions' games during his two seasons on the field at State College. He rehabbed a high-school ACL injury as he redshirted when he first arrived on campus.
As a finalist for the 2018 Paul Hornung Award, which is given to college football's most versatile player, it's possible that Hamler could also contribute as a returner. It's unclear how likely that is, as Head Coach Vic Fangio said after the draft that Hamler would likely only be involved in the return game if he's not involved on offense.
With a strong performance in the return game, Hamler broke Penn State's freshman all-purpose yardage mark in 2018 as he posted 1,417 yards. Saquon Barkley previously held the record.
In Denver, though, he'll prove himself as a wide receiver. And while he struggled with drops in his final season — John Elway didn't seem concerned when asked about it after the draft — he could be a game-changer.
Hamler sees himself in the mold of a three-time Pro Bowler who stands just 5-foot-10.
Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson was selected with the 49th-overall pick in the 2008 NFL Draft and has proceeded to catch 598 passes for 10,420 yards and 55 touchdowns through his first 12 years in the league.
"DeSean Jackson is the main guy I play like," Hamler said after the draft. "I've been hearing that since I was younger. He's my favorite player. Him and [former NFL WR] Steve Smith are the people I look up to. From a play making ability, from taking a slant 60 yards for a touchdown and stuff like that, I think me and DeSean are very similar. DeSeanJackson is my favorite player."
For a Denver offense aching for big plays, that would be a welcome addition.