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NFL Combine notebook: KJ Hamler 'doing really well' as he rehabs ACL injury

INDIANAPOLIS — One of the Broncos' most explosive weapons is well on his way to a return to the field.

General Manager George Paton said wide receiver KJ Hamler, who tore his ACL in a Week 3 game against the Jets, is "doing really well" in his rehab process.

Hamler, who suffered the injury as leapt for a pass against the Jets and then landed awkwardly, missed the final 14 games of his second season. In 13 games as a rookie, Hamler caught 30 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns, including a two-touchdown performance against the Panthers late in the year.

"You know how tough he is and he just grinds it," Paton said. "He grinds his rehab. He's making really good strides. Obviously a significant injury, but we feel he's ahead of schedule."

Despite Hamler's encouraging progress, Paton declined to set a target date for Hamler's return to the field. The Broncos are slated to hold offseason workouts from early April until mid-June.

"I can't put a time on it, but I don't know if I've ever seen anyone grind the rehab like he's doing," Paton said.

The 2020 second-round pick will return as part of a wide receiving corps that also features Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy and Tim Patrick.


As outside linebacker Bradley Chubb heads into the final season of his rookie contract, Paton said he is "very confident" that the former fifth-overall pick will return to elite form.

"He had two minor — they weren't minor to him — but he had two minor surgeries on the foot that held him back this year," Paton said. "He was never healthy. Going into the offseason, this is the first time Bradley's going to be healthy in, I believe, three years. And we all know when he's healthy, he can play at a Pro Bowl level. I'm really excited. I think I've said this before, I really respect Bradley fighting through the injuries and finishing strong. We play Kansas City [in Week 18], it doesn't mean anything really for anyone except our team, and you saw how Bradley played that game. I'm really encouraged. I think he's going to get back to that Pro Bowl level."

Chubb earned a Pro Bowl appearance in 2020 after a 7.5-sack season, but his most productive year came as a rookie in 2018. The NC State product exploded onto the scene with 12 sacks, setting a Broncos franchise rookie record.

Despite missing 24 games over the last three seasons, Chubb has been productive while on the field. His 20.5 sacks are the fourth most in team history through a player's first 41 games.


The Broncos have two of the best defensive backs in the league in Justin Simmons and Pat Surtain II, but they'll still have some questions to answer as free agency approaches. Starting strong safety Kareem Jackson and nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan are both slated to become free agents when the new league year begins.

"We're talking to his agent here and obviously keeping it open with Bryce," Paton said. "We like Bryce, we think he's a very good nickel, and so we'll talk to his people."

Second-year safety Caden Sterns, meanwhile, could be an option to replace Jackson if he does not return to Denver.

"Caden showed some signs," Paton said. "I think he had two starts, played a lot in our dime package. He just needs to keep developing and become a pro. He needs to be available, had some nicks that kept him out of games. If you're going to be a starter, you need to be available. But really talented — he has range, he has ball skills, he can tackle. He has everything a starting safety can have, but Kareem Jackson's a hard guy to replace. But I'm really happy with his progress, and he can be a starter."

Sterns recorded two interceptions, five passes defensed and two sacks in 15 games as a rookie.


Paton's decisions will continue at inside linebacker, as Josey Jewell, Alexander Johnson and Kenny Young are all slated to be unrestricted free agents. Paton said all three players have proven that they are starting-caliber players.

"We like them all, we'd like to bring them all back," Paton said. "We can't, so we're going to discuss with their agents this week of where they stand, but we'd like to have them all back but it's going to be tough."

Jewell posted 113 tackles and two sacks in 2020 as he regained his starting job, but he suffered a season-ending pectoral injury on a special teams play in Jacksonville in Week 2 of the 2021 season. Johnson has started 34 games over the last three seasons and had a team-high 124 tackles in 2020, but he suffered a pectoral injury of his own in Week 6 against Las Vegas in 2021. Young, meanwhile, was acquired via a trade with the Rams in 2021 and made 29 tackles in six games with the Broncos.

Paton said both Jewell and Johnson have healed from their pectoral injuries and would be ready for the team's offseason program.


  • Paton said he has had "really good discussions" with impending free agent running back Melvin Gordon III, and he added that he would like the Pro Bowler to return to Denver.
  • The Broncos have not yet made a decision on tight end Noah Fant's fifth-year option. Paton said the Broncos hope to keep Fant in Denver for a long time.
  • Paton said he will continue to rely on John Elway and converse with him multiple times per week. "It's really beneficial to me to have that sounding board," Paton said. KUSA's Mike Klis reported Elway would serve as an outside consultant for the team.

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