I am not going to lie, I’ve had an itchy trigger finger for writing this article. It’s been incredibly difficult for me not to jump the proverbial gun and talk at length about this topic. But it’s been worth it, as the time has come. It’s finally come.
It’s time for the Denver Broncos to unleash DaeSean Hamilton.
If you’ve followed me on Twitter, you know two things. No. 1 is that Dante Pettis was my highest-ranked wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft. No. 2 is that DeaSean Hamilton was my favorite wide receiver in the 2018 NFL Draft. If you don’t follow me on twitter,
you’re likely filled with sorrow you can at @BradKelly17.
With the news that Denver had traded Demaryius Thomas to the Houston Texans before Tuesday’s trade deadline, many thought about the potential increase in fellow rookie Courtland Sutton’s production. It makes sense, as Sutton was the higher draft pick of the two rookie wide receivers, has gotten more playing time to this point and is the superior athlete. To his credit, Sutton has been making the most of his opportunities this season, as he's third among rookies with 317 receiving yards. He undoubtedly fits into the Demaryius Thomas mold of receiver, a natural replacement in Denver’s offense.
But my mind went immediately to Hamilton. Here’s the thing, Denver likes to play with a tight end on the field. With two rookie running backs producing at a high level, they like to keep that duo out there as well. So, most of this season we’ve seen 2 or 3 wide receiver sets from the Broncos. DaeSean Hamilton was the acting WR4, but now he will have a role in those 3-receiver, 11 personnel sets.
Why was DaeSean Hamilton my favorite wide receiver prospect, you ask? The answer to that started at the Senior Bowl, where I witnessed him filleting the defensive backs during 1 on 1 periods.
Probably my favorite moment of the entire week was when I approached Hamilton for an interview after practice. He was getting extra work in by playing catch, and gladly accepted the interview with the caveat that he would still need to catch passes during it. The guy who was just the best player on the field during practice was focused on finishing his practice session with extra reps, while at an all-star game. It was easy to see his work ethic.
I went back to see if his film matched his performance during Senior Bowl practices, and it did. I looked deeper, scouted more games. I kept coming to the conclusion that Hamilton could be a productive NFL wide receiver.
Hamilton’s positional coach in college was Josh Gattis. For my money, Gattis is the best wide receivers coach in college football, and that’s a list that includes myself.
In his first season as a wide receivers coach at Western Michigan, Gattis coached Jordan White to All-American honors. In his next two seasons at Wake Forest, Gattis coached Jordan Matthews to consecutive All-American honors. Then at Penn State, Gattis maximized the abilties of Chris Godwin, DaeSean Hamilton, and promising prospect Juwan Johnson. He now coaches the best wide receiver group in college football at Alabama (yes, they are better than Ole Miss).
Gattis’ fingerprints were all over Hamilton’s collegiate tape. As far as I’m concerned, he was the best route runner in the 2017 or 2018 NFL Draft. But the real question is, how does that translate into his expected role for the Broncos down the stretch?
It starts with the versatility of mainstay Emmanuel Sanders. Despite being 31 years old, Sanders has showed no signs of slowing down this season. He has experience playing from nearly every alignment over the years. With the majority of Sutton's reps coming from the outside, Hamilton can fit into the offense as the regular slot receiver, a role he filled throughout his collegiate career. This likely means more reps as an outside presence for Sanders, but Denver will still be able to vary his alignments as Hamilton has above average size and athleticism to move outside for stretches of time.
As a route runner, Hamilton was as refined as they come entering the league. Despite a lack of production to this point in his rookie season, there have been flashes of the brilliance Hamilton possesses. Hamilton is at his best when working in the intermediate portions of the field. With an innate awareness of the first down markers, Hamilton will manipulate defensive backs and break off his route to separate with enough yardage to move the chains.
When facing man coverage in the slot, Hamilton will consistently set himself up for a two-way go. His breaks are flawless, and the deception he shows during his stems keeps defensive backs constantly on their heels. He has all of the desired qualities of a slot receiver; leveraging zone coverages, working through windows, short-area quickness to separate against shiftier nickel corners, etc.
The peak of Broncos quarterback Case Keenum's career came last year while playing for the Minnesota Vikings. Keenum found a ton of success throwing to Adam Thielen, who was a master at adjusting to touch passes and working around defensive backs.
Meanwhile, Hamilton's body control was a weapon at Penn State. He would seamlessly position his frame at the catchpoint to shield defensive backs and allow himself to make a play on the ball. While not the level of contested catch winner that Thielen is, there are similarities between them in how they're able to adjust through contact. Keenum will likely find this trait in Hamilton's game.
Hamilton's usage will become clearer when the Broncos take the field against the Houston Texans on Sunday. However, all signs are pointed toward an uptick in snaps. If DaeSean Hamilton is on the field, then DaeSean Hamilton is open, so expect to see an increase in targets as well.
It's finally time.