DENVER — Nove. Neun. Novem. Nio. Nine.
Nine straight times the Broncos have lost to the Chiefs. Nine! Wondering why the Broncos used a second-round pick on Penn State wide receiver K.J. Hamler — one day after using a first-rounder on Alabama wide receiver Jerry Jeudy?
The gap between the Chiefs and Broncos is measured in MPH. So why all the hate for Hamler, who ran the 40-yard dash in 4.27 seconds, when the Chiefs are rip-roaring ready to unleash Tyreek Hill, the uncoverable wide receiver who clocked a 4.29? Count me in the minority that's all about the Broncos turning the AFC West into an actual and literal race.
"I think me and DeSean Jackson are real similar,” said Hamler, who admitted he was "definitely surprised" when Broncos boss John Elway used the No. 77 pick to grab him Friday.
Run, K.J., run. Sorry to say, but the Broncos have been boring. They can't score. And no one should be surprised Elway is sick and tired of seeing only the backs of Kansas City’s jerseys. So he countered. Elway found a kick and punt returner who moonlights as perhaps the fastest wide receiver in the draft. It’s a fun dream to think you’re going to beat Super Bowl champion Patrick Mahomes with a stout defense and final scores of 16-13.
That’s not happening.
Here’s a better plan: stockpile speed to keep up with the Chiefs. One, Mahomes was made in a QB laboratory and the blueprint was tossed in the can. Two, winning the AFC West requires points in a hurry. Right after Peyton Manning won four straight division titles with the likes of Demaryius Thomas, Emmanuel Sanders, Wes Welker and Julius Thomas, the Chiefs won four straight with the likes of Hill, Travis Kelce, Kareem Hunt and DeAnthony Thomas. Both played football in fast forward.
“We’re looking to make our offense a little bit more stressful to defend,” Vic Fangio said.
The only second-rounder I would've preferred over a speed demon was Jeremy Chinn, a freaky safety from Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. Chinn ended up going late second to the Panthers. Remember the name down the road.
And remember Elway’s own career with the Broncos. History’s still our best road map into the future, and it’s not for nothing that Elway’s Broncos were the only AFC team to reach three Super Bowls in the 1980s — and not one of those rosters placed a wide receiver, running back or tight end in the Pro Bowl. Now Elway is making certain that 23-year-old quarterback Drew Lock never longs for a playmaker.
As soon as the Broncos made their second pick, Fangio got on the phone with Hamler: “I’m from Pennsylvania. All my relatives are Penn State fans, and they’ve been bugging me to pick you for months."
The Broncos added three players in the third round: Michael Ojemudia, a cornerback from Iowa (feels reachy); Lloyd Cushenberry, a center from LSU (Day 1 starter); McTelvin Agim, a defensive lineman from Arkansas (no clue). Cool beans.
“When I saw the area code (for Colorado) pop up on my iPhone, my heart dropped because I feel it’s the perfect place for me,” Ojemudia said.
But the story Friday was the Broncos finally punching back at the Chiefs. Their matchups lately have been TKOs. Last time we saw the Broncos, they were 28th in yards per game, 26th in yards per play, 28th in points, 28th in passing yards per game, 30th on third down and 28th in the red zone. Flip that and you get KC.
The only respectable response was a counter: Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, Noah Fant and K.J. Hamler, who was out of breath after his phone call with Elway was drowned out by his family “yelling and crying” tears of joy.
“I’m a playmaker and I got a chip on my shoulder at all times,” Hamler said. “I’ve been an underdog my whole life.”
After several seasons of slog, the Broncos are forming a relay team. It’s on, KC.
Before he hung up, Fangio had one more question for Hamler: “You still going to be able to run fast?”
Orange and Blur.