It’s finally draft day, so let’s keep this short and sweet: Kahlee Jacoby “K.J.” Hamler is good at football.
K.J. Hamler Is The Best Separator in This Draft Class
Jerry Jeudy has the routes. CeeDee Lamb has the playmaking. But K.J. Hamler’s got the juice:
Not many players can outrun the entire Ohio State defense! While Hamler did not run the 40-yard dash at the combine and his Pro Day was cancelled, Penn State recorded Hamler with a 4.27-second 40-yard dash. He had the reputation as the fastest player in college football, and prior to his injury was second only to Henry Ruggs III for the best odds to run the fastest 40-yard dash.
But elite speed isn’t the main reason he gets so open, so deep. His vertical route running might be as good as anyone in this draft class:
Hamler just naturally understands leverage, and preys on cornerbacks’ hips by getting on their toes and waiting until the very last split second to break upfield, at which point his off-the-charts burst leave defenders just hopeless:
Over and over he stacks defensive backs in the blink of an eye. Even the camera guys can’t keep up:
It’s Not Just Deep Routes Either
Don’t think Hamler is a one-trick pony — his start-and-stop explosiveness leaves cornerbacks stumbling on quick slants, too:
He runs a nasty out route as well, snapping off violently at the top of routes with a jerky head fake and hard break:
He’s got a nice hesitation crossover move to break inside as well:
That elite start-stop athleticism gets cornerbacks to stumble on whip routes too:
Basically, name your route and Hamler will get open. Sure, he’ll take the top off defenses with his speed, but he also knows how to vary his speed midroute and how to snap off at the top of routes. His release is explosive off the line of scrimmage, and while at his size he can get moved off his line, his overall route running and athleticism make him one of the best guys in the draft class at getting open.
And once he gets the ball in his hands, he’s electric after the catch. While he’s not going to break many tackles at his size, a lot of defenders can’t get their hands on him in the first place with his speed, vision and suddenness. That also gives him special teams value as a big return threat.
Some People Think K.J. Hamler Is Not All That Good At Football. To That, I Say, “Poppycock!”
The two big things detractors point to with K.J. Hamler: (1) drops and (2) size. Let’s address those in turn:
Catching the Ball Is Overrated
Pro Football Focus charted K.J. Hamler with 16 drops on 114 catchable opportunities over the last two years (14.0%), and 12 drops on 70 catchable opportunities last year (17.0%). That’s bad!
But drop rate at the college level is not predictive of drop rate at the NFL level, like, at all. In fact, the r2 of college drop rate to NFL drop rate is less than 0.1. That’s a math-y way of saying there’s basically zero predictive power. Which makes some sense — it’s a small sample size, and drop rate is already pretty noisy year-to-year at the NFL level.
Does that mean we should stop scouting whether receivers can catch? No, but I wouldn’t get too bogged down in the numbers. Instead, focus on traits. Hamler sometimes tries to cut upfield before finishing the catch, and can overrely on his chest to secure the ball rather than snatching the ball with his hands. But those can be fixable weaknesses, especially when Hamler has shown the ability to make good plays at the catch point:
Perhaps the biggest reason to bet on Hamler’s upside is his youth: he’s the youngest receiver in this draft class — he won’t turn 21 until a few months from now. When Adam Thielen first arrived to Vikings’ camp, he couldn’t catch a cold; he now has one of the lowest career drop rates of any active receiver. So while the drops are certainly a negative, I wouldn’t write Hamler off — especially based on numbers with zero predictive power.
It’s Not the Size of the Boat, but the Motion in the Ocean
Hamler is a tiny boi. He’s 5’8½”, 178 pounds, and he’s likely maxed out his frame. He plays stronger than his size, with 30 3/4” arms and an above-average bench press at the combine, but no doubt compared to the Mike Evans’ of the world, he’s a pipsqueak.
That creates a two-fold problem for Hamler in many evaluators’ eyes, who think he lacks the durability to take shots from linebackers and strong safeties over the middle, while at the same time thinking he lacks the size to line up anywhere but in the slot.
The durability concerns are perhaps a bit overblown, as Hamler never missed a game in his entire college career. He did tear his ACL in high school and tweaked his hamstring prior to the combine, but that’s a pretty clean bill of health compared to many receivers in this class.
Pegging Hamler as a slot only makes some sense, as that’s where he lined up on about 90% of snaps in college, and that’s where he can make the most of his two-way-go route running, but he also had success in college on the outside. It’s unclear whether Hamler can beat a hard jam — teams seemed reluctant to risk it given Hamler’s speed — but Hamler has shown the ability to beat soft press with his footwork if not his upper body.
Either way, with his deep speed and burst to stack corners in the blink of an eye, he has all the traits of a vertical flanker in the mold of DeSean Jackson (who weighed ten pounds less than Hamler at the combine). Indeed, at 178 pounds, Hamler’s size is in the same neighborhood as Hollywood Brown (166 lbs), Cole Beasley (175 lbs), John Brown (179 lbs), Santana Moss (181 lbs), Mario Manningham (181 lbs), Tyler Lockett (182 lbs) and T.Y. Hilton (183 lbs).
Is Hamler going to dominate at the catch point? No. But he’ll likely be getting so open that it won’t matter.
In Conclusion, K.J. Hamler Is Good at Football
Hamler is fast. He gets as open as 7-11. He’s a touchdown threat every time he touches the ball. And as the youngest receiver in this draft class, he’s only going to get better.
Don’t let the drops or size scare you too much. Drops suck, but Hamler’s drops are mostly of the fixable flavor, and anyway, a player’s drop rate in college tells you pretty much nothing about what their drop rate will be in the NFL. He doesn’t have the size of a prototypical possession receiver, but he does have the size of an elite route runner like Antonio Brown or Emmanuel Sanders and the size of an elite vertical threat like DeSean Jackson, so don’t let his size scare you off.
If Tavon Austin can go in the top-ten, K.J. Hamler can have a first round grade. He won’t go in the first round, but I would wager the team that nabs him on day two is going to one day feel like they got a day-one talent.