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5 reasons Hamilton can competently replace Sanders

Was the 2018 Denver Broncos’ draft class the best they have had in the past twenty years? The answer to that question depends somewhat on whether one is willing to include the undrafted Phillip Lindsay into the equation.

Beyond Lindsay, though, the Broncos have now watched as four of their top-five 2018 draft picks have become starters and produced for the most part. If Denver are to make a playoff push, it will come down to this rookie class continuing to play at a high level and maybe even take their collective game to the next level.

The Broncos will be adding another draft pick to the starting lineup this week in DaeSean Hamilton with the injury to Emmanuel Sanders. Who would have thought at the beginning of the season the starting receivers for the Broncos would both be rookies at this point in the season?

Some questioned during the draft why the Broncos would take two receivers with Demaryius Thomas and Sanders on the roster. That decision might end up being what helps save this season.

DaeSean Hamilton — up to this point in the season — has not been a big contributor to this offense. He has just five catches and has yet to find the end zone. He is now being tasked with what so many other players in this rookie class have been asked to do — replace a bigtime starter in the lineup and perform.

Hamilton’s ability to step up and answer that challenge will go a long way toward determining how the Broncos close this season. He brings a great skill-set to do just that.

Hamilton was one of the more pro-ready receivers in this past draft class and it would not shock me if he ends up leading the team in receptions over the final quarter of the season.

Let me show you just a few plays to highlight some of that skill-set and character, and why the transition from Sanders to Hamilton might not be as bumpy as some might imagine.

No problem sticking his nose in the fight

Everyone and their dog want to talk about how great of a run this was by Phillip Lindsay. I don’t blame them one bit. He showed incredible vision, patience, and burst to turn this into a touchdown. This touchdown doesn’t happen without other players being willing to do some unselfish things and open up the hole.

DaeSean Hamilton falls into that category. TE Jeff Heuerman getting injured really hurt the Broncos and the type of play-calls they like to run throughout the game. The ground game all year has found quite a bit of success running with two tight ends on the field. The tight ends are tasked with essentially acting, as Bill Musgrave said earlier this week, as a “sixth offensive lineman”.

When Heuerman went down, that responsibility instead of moving to the next tight end was handed to DaeSean Hamilton.

This past weekend he saw the most snaps he has seen all year. One would think that would mean he would see a few targets and maybe have a catch or two. The Broncos instead asked him to be unselfish and jump right into the thick of the fight. He was tasked with trying to get to the second level and help in the run game.

On this particular play, Hamilton motions across the formation and settles into the H-back position. His responsibility is to cut inside the TE and get to the safety, opening up a hole for Lindsay to run through. Hamilton ends up running by the safety, expecting him to be a bit deeper on the play, but corrects himself and does just enough to throw off the safety and allow the superior athleticism of Lindsay to run right by for a touchdown.

This was not the best block that Hamilton made in the game. I highlight this play not only for the success it brought, but to highlight exactly what Hamilton was tasked with doing throughout the entire game. He deserves to be rewarded for his unselfish play this past weekend.

Most wide receivers his size would none too happy to be asked to play after play go block defenders with most of them being bigger than him. This is why the Broncos are finding success at this point in the season, though, because unselfish players are willing to adapt and do what is asked of them by the coaching staff.

Creating separation 

The unfortunate issue that one runs into when looking at the season for DaeSean Hamilton is that the Broncos have not taken advantage of his skill-set on the field so far. Just because he has not caught a lot of passes does not mean that he hasn’t been open for some big plays throughout the game.

What I want to highlight for you on this play is the little things that Hamilton does that I think will lead to him having a very successful contribution down the stretch. He is a technician on the field.

Courtland Sutton is a man among boys when it comes to athleticism, strength, and body control, but he struggles with the finer details. Hamilton is not the opposite of Sutton, as he does possess more athleticism than some will let on, but he is for sure further along in his development of the game.

Hamilton is lined up here against a very good cornerback in Dre Kirkpatrick. At the snap of the ball, Hamilton does a great job driving up the field and making it look like he is running a deep route more towards the end zone. He forces Kirkpatrick to have to flip his hips and start thinking Hamilton is running a corner route. As soon as Kirkpatrick starts picking up speed to try and keep up with him, Hamilton puts on the breaks and begins the process of running his true route in a comeback.

Switching from his work with his feet to his hands, watch as he does a great job of doing a swim move and just a hair push on the back of Kirkpatrick, allowing him to get more separation and a nice open target for Keenum.

The end result of this play unfortunately is a sack, as the pressure ended up getting home before Keenum had a chance to see how open Hamilton is on this play, which would have resulted in a first down. A fraction of a second longer in pass protection and Keenum working through his reads a little faster, could have resulted in this having been a big play. The fact that Hamilton will be a more featured piece moving forward should help him get a quicker look from Keenum.

One false step and he can be gone

An advanced understanding of route running is only part of the picture when it comes to DaeSean Hamilton. That is always the first thing people who watch him play point out, but he brings a level of athleticism that can surprise opponents. He offers both quickness and long speed to his game. Opposing teams have to worry about more than him catching balls over the middle. 

All Hamilton needs is for a defensive back to take one false step and he can be gone. This play highlights that very fact.

He motions across the formation and is picked up by Darqueze Dennard for man coverage. Hamilton does a great job of driving up the field with his first step and getting to top speed before Dennard is ready to flip his hips and try to run with him. Hamilton gets down the field in a hurry and not only has a step on Dennard, but the safety underestimates him as well, leaving him open down the field for an easy touchdown with a great throw.

It would not shock me to see the Broncos try to hit a couple of big throws over the top to Hamilton this weekend. If teams have to worry about both Hamilton and Sutton beating them over the top, it should open up just about anything the Broncos want in the playbook.

Phenomenal footwork

These final two plays I want to highlight put together everything I have written about so far and end with success for Hamilton. He motions across the formation once again and is given a one-on-one matchup with Buster Skrine.

At the snap of the ball Hamilton runs up the field a few yards and uses his footwork to make Skrine think he is running a quick slant or in pattern on the play. Skrine goes to jam him and instead Hamilton swims to the outside, causing Skrine to panic and completely get turned around.

When a wide receiver can make a cornerback get out of position like this and panic, it leads to one of two things happening. Either the cornerback in his panicked state grabs the receiver, leading to a holding call, or the corner ends up looking silly with their receiver being wide open. Hamilton has gotten himself enough separation in such a short area that even with Skrine trying to grab him he is already too far into the route to get caught.

Hamilton then cuts to the middle of the field wide open for an easy target and easy throw for Keenum. The Broncos would be wise to set up some early plays in the game with routes like this for Keenum and Hamilton to get settled into the game and comfortable with each other.

He can run many of the same Sanders’ hit-plays

This final play is one of the biggest reasons I think the Broncos’ offense could still be very functional even in the absence of Emmanuel Sanders. DaeSean Hamilton shows a maturity to his game that should allow the Broncos to run many of the same concepts they ran with Sanders in the lineup.

Hamilton is once again in a one-on-one situation in the middle of the field. He runs straight at the cornerback with little indication of where he is going on his route. He pushes off his right foot to make it look like he is cutting outside, forcing the cornerback to open up his hips. When a wide receiver can do this it is about as easy as it gets to find oneself wide open.

Hamilton’s next step with the left foot shows his great technique in dropping his hip, allowing him to build plenty of force and cut back across the formation. He ends up with about three yards of separation and lots of open field to pick up some great yards after the catch.

Emmanuel Sanders runs these exact routes with consistent success. There should be no reason the Broncos can’t run some of these very same concepts with Hamilton and not find some success. Hamilton doesn’t have the superior hands that Sanders does, but as a route-runner he is right behind the ability of Sanders on the Broncos’ roster.

Bottom line

This will not be a seamless transition from Sanders to Hamilton. As much as one would hope it could be, there will usually be some bumps along the way when a rookie is being tasked with filling in for a veteran like Sanders.

If Keenum and Hamilton can build a little chemistry early on here, though, the Broncos should be able to continue with the offensive play-calling they have been showing over the past several weeks. I don’t like to give a ton of fantasy advice, but if you own Sanders in fantasy, it would not be the worst idea in the world to go pick up Hamilton in his place. If I were a betting man, I’d wager that he will have somewhere in the 7-10 target range this upcoming Sunday.

Hamilton was one of the rookies I was most excited about back in April and that has not changed this late in the season. He will be a big part of this offense and a big decider in what happens to close out this season. The Broncos have overcome the past injuries this season and I expect that trend to continue with Hamilton ready to seize his opportunity.

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