DENVER — To beat the blistering, blurry Super Bowl champion Chiefs, the Broncos must keep up with the Chiefs.
Which brings us to the first question: Is Broncos rookie wide receiver KJ Hamler as fast as they say, as fast as he looks?
“He really is that fast,” says Gerad Parker, Hamler’s position coach last season at Penn State. “His speed is no joke.”
Thought so. These hype videos I’m seeing on social media barely look real. They look like Hamler, the surprise second-round pick, is operating in fast forward while his peers are in slow motion. His legs kick like a chef’s knife chopping celery.
It’s wild stuff. It’s stuff that sends you to StubHub for Broncos tickets when no one’s even sure if fans will be allowed to attend the games. Stuff that makes you think the Broncos can finally, after nine straight losses to Kansas City, keep up with the Chiefs.
But what do these wild hype videos mean, aside from 1,000 likes on social media?
Because it says here Hamler means a ton. If he can play, Hamler elevates a good Broncos offseason into a great Broncos offseason. If he’s a bust, the Broncos can return to their regularly scheduling viewing: the back of Chiefs jerseys.
Speed, juice — that’s what’s been missing around these hills. You and I both know Courtland Sutton can play. He’s the muscle of the wide receivers. Twelve broken tackles — tops among NFL wide receivers, according to Pro Football Reference — says Sutton is the No. 1 till proven otherwise. And there’s Jerry Jeudy, the first-round pick. He’s the technician. The powerhouse Alabama program has seen only two wide receivers total 1,000 yards in back-to-back seasons, and Jeudy’s one of them.
“Typically, in games that you win and play good offense ... there’s probably six or seven guys that caught passes and two or three guys that ran the ball,” Broncos offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur says.
The speed? That’s Hamler. Is he the real deal, or a real reach? He was the controversial draft pick I loved while others hated. What sold me on Hamler wasn’t the wild workout videos. It was the edge, the spirit, the go-getter swag he showed on draft night: “I don’t back down to anybody.” He’s the 5-foot-9, 176-pound wild card. He’s really that fast, his college wide receivers coach says, and ... what else?
“I’ll tell you this: Doing what you do for a living, you’re going to love him. He’s a fun interview, no doubt about it,” says Parker, who left Penn State for a well-deserved promotion as offensive coordinator at West Virginia. “He is a happy-go-lucky kid who has a chip on his shoulder in a positive and productive way. He’s got one of those small, undersized, is-he-big-enough type stories. He carries it in a positive way. He’s very proud of being from Pontiac (Mich.). He’s got his mom’s personality. He’s been raised great by two awesome parents, two great people.”
Count me in.
Now about those drops. The drops are as much a part of his story as the speed, since you can’t show one without fixing the other. Hamler last season dropped 12 of 68 catchable passes thrown his way, a scary drop rate of 17 percent.
“I think it’s an issue. And the cool thing is he knows it,” Parker says. “He’s got some fundamental things to continue to work on, and that happens to be one of them. I’d say probably 90 percent of those (drops) he already knows he’s got his eyes up field and the ball’s below his waist. He knows he’s got to turn his hands over properly and finish those. He will work on it. He’s driven. He’s a worker.”
His coach added, “I don’t think the drops are something you’ll be writing about.”
Cool, because I sure prefer talking about speed.
So let’s talk about the speed again.
The NFL combine record in the 40-yard dash is John Ross’ 4.22 seconds. Champ Bailey ran a 4.28. Raiders draft pick Harry Ruggs III ran a 4.27. The late Darrent Williams ran a 4.30. Hamler didn’t run at the combine due to an injury. Broncos boss John Elway told NBC Sports they clocked him over 40 yards on a kickoff return at Penn State.
“There is no doubt what KJ would’ve run at the combine. If he would have ran-ran at the combine — actually run at the combine — we’re talking he’s in the 4.2s,” Parker says. “He would have run 4.29, somewhere around there. That’s what we’re talking about."