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Hands down, Penn State receiver K.J. Hamler has speed that catches NFL draft eyes

Speedy K.J. Hamler of Penn State tries to run past Rutgers' Damon Hayes in November.
(Scott Taetsch / Getty Images)

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

His speed had never been in question. But when it came to quantifying exactly how fast he was on a football field for teams differentiating their NFL draft boards by mere milliseconds, K.J. Hamler knew he had a problem.

The speedy, 5-foot-9 receiver didn’t run a 40 at the NFL scouting combine, having suffered a hamstring injury while training. He didn’t run at Pro Day, either, as the COVID-19 pandemic led Penn State and countless others to cancel. So with no other way to reliably quantify his most marketable skill, Hamler turned to technology.

Fortunately for him, that option was available. During his two seasons at Penn State, Hamler wore a Catapult GPS tracking vest at the behest of the sports science staff to track exactly how fast he was moving on the field. So Hamler’s agents requested that the same information be shared with NFL teams.

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Now the only question is, how much will those teams trust it?

If they do, Hamler could see his stock sprint past other receivers in the draft. The data sent along to teams included the top speeds with the ball in his hands from both his redshirt freshman and redshirt sophomore seasons. The two speeds (21.76 mph and 21.58 mph) would’ve both ranked among the top-13 fastest sprints in the NFL last season.

The Times examines the top prospects ahead of the 2020 NFL draft, to be held April 23-25.

Still, the 40 has a strange way of putting scouts at ease. While at the combine, nursing his strained hamstring, Hamler declared he would’ve run in the 4.2 range, “and I wasn’t going to accept anything less.”

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For those who actually have watched the tape, there should be no need for concrete times. Few players in college football last season looked faster on the field.

But there are more pressing questions about Hamler that can’t exactly be answered with a single viewing of his YouTube highlights.

“Most definitely my hands,” Hamler said, when asked where he needed to improve his game most. “I’m not proud of it. I dropped eight balls last year. A lot of teams know that by now. … I think, for me, it was a lack of focus, lack of concentration while catching the ball. I would always turn my head and try to get upfield before ever securing the ball. The most important thing on the field is the ball.”

Where he gets the ball, Hamler insists, doesn’t matter. But some scouts have wondered whether he’s capable of playing outside of the slot, where he spent most of the last two seasons at Penn State.

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In two seasons as the primary slot receiver, Hamler had just four games with five catches or more. He still led Penn State in catches (56), yards (904), and touchdowns (8) last season, but in a loaded class at receiver, it’s fair to wonder how Hamler’s skillset might translate to the NFL.

“Me being a smaller receiver, being very versatile is probably the main thing teams want to see,” Hamler said. “I primarily play in the slot, but I will play anywhere they need me.”

It’ll take the right team to find that proper fit. But regardless of where the speedy wideout winds up, there’s another part of his game he’s sure will help him acclimate.

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“I’m a dog,” Hamler said. “That’s just point blank, period. You don’t find a lot of people my size, doing some things that I do.”


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