Yahoo Sports' top 2020 NFL draft prospects, No. 47: Penn State WR KJ Hamler

Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports
Albert Corona/Yahoo Sports

47. Penn State WR KJ Hamler

5-foot-9, 178 pounds

Yahoo Sports draft grade: 5.91 — starter potential

TL;DR scouting report: Pint-sized powder keg of a deep threat with drop issues, raw element to his game.

The skinny: KJ (no periods) is short for Kahlee Jacoby. A 4-star Rivals recruit in high school, Hamler transferred before his senior season from his high school in Pontiac, Mich., to IMG Academy (Bradenton, Fla.). But before his first game at IMG, Hamler suffered a torn ACL and sat out his entire senior season. Hamler chose Penn State over dozens of schools, including most of the Big Ten teams he faced for two years.

Penn State was cautious and redshirted Hamler in 2017, which also allowed him to add weight to his then-150-pound frame. He took the field as a redshirt freshman in 2018 and started all 13 games, earning honorable mention All-Big Ten as a receiver and returner and was a finalist for the Paul Hornung Award (most versatile player in college football).

Hamler was named second-team all-conference as a receiver (56 catches, 904 yards, eight TDs) and honorable mention as a returner as a redshirt sophomore, starting all 13 games despite suffering an undisclosed injury in the first quarter against Indiana.

Hamler, who turns 21 years old in July, declared early for the 2020 NFL draft with two seasons of eligibility remaining. He tweaked his hamstring prior to the NFL scouting combine and did not perform in any drills other than the bench press.

KJ Hamler is a dangerous punt returner but sometimes tries to do too much. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)
KJ Hamler is a dangerous punt returner but sometimes tries to do too much. (Photo by Scott Taetsch/Getty Images)

Upside: Absolute blur in the open field — elite, game-changing speed to blow by safeties. Can take the top off a defense, creates tangible separation on downfield routes and does it in a hurry. On targets of 10 or more yards downfield in 2019, Pro Football Focus charted Hamler with one step or more of separation on 64 percent of his targets — the fourth-highest rate in college football. Generated fourth-most explosive plays of 15-plus yards (41) out of the slot over the past two seasons among all college receivers.

Changes the way defenses defend his team — demands safety help or bracket coverage often. Was underthrown on several passes the past two seasons, which limited yards-after-catch chances, or missed entirely. According to PFF, only 42 percent of Hamler’s passes were considered on target last season.

Can turn short catches into chunk plays — Hamler averaged 8.4 yards after the catch on passes caught within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage last season. Check out this slant vs. Ohio State in 2018 in which Hamler simply outruns the Buckeyes’ defense:

Hamler turns on the afterburners against Ohio State in 2018.
Hamler turns on the afterburners against Ohio State in 2018.

Had at least one catch in every college game and never held to less than 20 yards receiving. Averaged 115.5 all-purpose yards per game in two seasons and was held to fewer than 84 all-purpose yards in one game in 2019 (69 vs. Purdue).

Fairly polished with lightning-quick releases and sudden, sharp cuts on his breaks at the top of routes. Lethal on two-way goes. Attacks defenders’ leverage and manufactures space with ease. Effective on tunnel and bubble screens with hiccup-quick jukes and moves and easy acceleration. Wiggles through tiny cracks — like trying to catch a dragonfly with chopsticks.

Hamler makes a few Iowa defenders whiff in tight quarters.
Hamler makes a few Iowa defenders whiff in tight quarters.

Showed nice strength on the bench press (15 reps). Plays with supreme confidence. Steps up in big moments — saved Nittany Lions against Appalachian State in his first college game, diced through elite Ohio State secondary in 2018, almost beat Michigan single-handedly last season and did everything possible on offense in a loss to Minnesota.

Downside: Dropped passes were way up from 2018 — 12 drops on 92 targets (13 percent rate) in 2019 after four drops on 74 targets (5.4 percent) the year prior. Seven of those drops in 2019 came on passes within 10 yards of line of scrimmage.

Lets some easy ones slip through his hands — concentration drops mixed with ball-tracking issues. Can be seen fighting the ball a bit and has below-average hand size (9 3/8 inches). Not a 50-50 receiver at all and won’t win most contested-catch situations. Fade passes his direction are just begging to be picked off.

Small catch radius — measured officially at 5-foot-8 3/8 with 30 3/4-inch arms and a wingspan (72 1/2 inches) that paces him in the 10th percentile among all combine wide receivers since 1999. Limited mass with little expected growth potential after packing on nearly 30 pounds over three years. Those types of frames typically don’t endure in the NFL.

Can struggle with physical cornerbacks in press coverage if he doesn’t win off the line with quickness and burst. Likely to be predominantly a slot receiver at next level — took far more snaps there (1,291) at PSU than he did outside (112). Not as effective working the middle of the field on intermediate routes.

Might require creative NFL offensive coordinator to get the ball in his hands in manufactured role. PFF charted Hamler with only four broken tackles created after the catch, which was tied for 142nd among 2020 draft-eligible receivers. Limited effectiveness as runner on end-arounds and jet sweeps — only two of 17 career rush attempts were longer than 9 yards. Not a volume receiver — more than five catches in only four of 26 career games.

Risk taker on returns, especially on punts — will work backwards to try to hit home runs and hurt field position occasionally. Wasn’t a game-changer on returns last year — long kickoff return of 40 yards and long punt return of 26 on punts in 2019.

Best-suited destination: Hamler is a perfect addition for teams lacking big-play ability on offense and special teams. He might require a stronger-armed quarterback who can routinely hit him downfield, but Hamler also can be effective in a yards-after-catch role on short stuff, too.

Among the teams that could be interested in his services include the New York Jets, Philadelphia Eagles, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers, Miami Dolphins, Chicago Bears, Pittsburgh Steelers, New England Patriots, Denver Broncos, Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Los Angeles Rams, Green Bay Packers, Los Angeles Chargers and Minnesota Vikings.

Did you know: Hamler has a youthful, energetic personality and loves drawing as a hobby. He loves comics and has said he considers Bug Bunny to be a role model.

They said it: “During training, I ran 4.27 [seconds in the 40-yard dash] when I tweaked it. I was going to run in the 4.2 range, and I wasn’t going to accept nothing less.”

— Hamler at the combine

Player comp: DeSean Jackson — Hamler’s favorite player growing up — is his peak, but a more realistic comp might be Marquise Goodwin. Hamler is not as explosive and consistent, we believe, as Baltimore Ravens 2019 first-rounder Hollywood Brown was coming out.

Expected draft range: Top-60 pick

Previous prospect rankings: Nos. 100-91 | 90-81 | 80-71 | 70-66 | 65-61 | 60-56 | 55-51 | 50. DT Justin Madubuike | 49. CB Damon Arnette | 48. OT Ezra Cleveland | 47. WR KJ Hamler | 46. CB A.J. Terrell | 45. RB Cam Akers | 44. DL Ross Blacklock | 43. OT Josh Jones | 42. DT Jordan Elliott | 41. C Cesar Ruiz | 40. S Kyle Dugger | 39. EDGE Terrell Lewis | 38. WR Laviska Shenault Jr. | 37. S Grant Delpit | 36. Jonathan Taylor | 35. WR Brandon Aiyuk | 34. EDGE Zack Baun | 33. EDGE Yetur Gross-Matos | 32. CB Jeff Gladney | 31. QB Jordan Love | 30. CB Trevon Diggs | 29. EDGE A.J. Epenesa | 28. RB JK Dobbins | 27. WR Justin Jefferson | 26. WR Tee Higgins | 25. S Xavier McKinney | 24. WR Jalen Reagor | 23. CB Kristian Fulton | 22. RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire | 21. WR Denzel Mims | 20. LB Kenneth Murray | 19. RB D’Andre Swift | 18. QB Justin Herbert | 17. LB Patrick Queen | 16. WR Henry Ruggs III | 15. EDGE K’Lavon Chaisson | 14. WR Jerry Jeudy | 13. OT Mekhi Becton | 12. DT Javon Kinlaw | 11. OT Andrew Thomas | 10. OT Tristan Wirfs | 9. WR CeeDee Lamb | 8. OT Jedrick Wills Jr. | 7. CB CJ Henderson | 6. LB-S Isaiah Simmons | 5. DT Derrick Brown | 4. QB Tua Tagovailoa | 3. CB Jeffrey Okudah | 2. QB Joe Burrow | 1. Chase Young

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