Navigating your way to a stable career in the NFL is an arduous task. Layers of obstacles exist, many of which have nothing to do with your skills on the field. So much goes into turning an individual’s ability to play the game of football into being a member of the microscopic minority that makes a multi-year living playing in the National Football League.
At the wide receiver position, there are several paths that lead a player to that stable career. The position has so many different archetypes that all get slapped with the “WR” designation on the roster. That leads to many different trails that lead to the goal. Each archetype’s path looks different and comes with a different set of obstacles.
While no course is easy, the technically refined receivers won’t find their path littered with the same learning curves that stunt the progress of their peers. If you can run routes like a pro and create consistent separation with nuance, you can accelerate down your path.
Over the last few draft classes, Penn State has produced a pair of wideouts who look poised for fruitful NFL careers. We know how good Allen Robinson is, as he just inked a big-time contract with the Chicago Bears, and fellow former Nittany Lion, Chris Godwin, flashed starting-caliber ability in his rookie year. Robinson and Godwin possess the desirable size and athletic traits, no doubt, but both players primarily win with strong route-running and a technician’s approach to the position.
Here in 2018, the university is set to send another wide receiver prospect to the pro ranks. DaeSean Hamilton hasn’t quite received the buzz Chris Godwin got in 2017, or Allen Robinson in 2014, but he has just as much technical nuance to hit the ground running as an NFL player. Perhaps the most underrated player at the position this year, Hamilton is the type of route-runner who should take the quick path to NFL success.
Alignment & Target Data
Pittsburgh, Michigan, Ohio State, Iowa, Michigan State, Washington
Penn State runs a spread offense that features three-plus wide receivers on an overwhelming majority of their plays. DaeSean Hamilton operated almost exclusively as the inside receiver last season. He lined up in the slot on a whopping 97.6 percent of his sampled snaps in 2017. Who knows, perhaps Hamilton could have functioned outside if asked to do so, but all the Reception Perception data we have on him will be while operating as an interior receiver. We should assume that will be his home in the NFL.
On that note, let’s also put to bed that as a concern. It’s just a footnote. NFL teams operate out of 11-personnel at unprecedented rates and that means the slot receiver is essentially a starter. We should be looking for players who can help maximize that position and remove it as a pejorative term from our lexicons.
Hamilton appears to be a player labeled with “drops issues.” If you’re familiar with my work on this issue, you know it’s not something we need to emphasize. However, as with many players, the concern appears to be overblown. I’m not sure the reason he got stuck with the drop-prone label, but he registered just two in the games sampled for Reception Perception. Overemphasizing drops is a foolish way to let our emotional bias overrule our sight, improperly assigning these concerns to a player because our brain can’t properly weigh negative events is an even more regrettable side effect.
Success Rate vs. Coverage
DaeSean Hamilton’s calling card is his route-running. Much like other former Penn State receivers Allen Robinson and Chris Godwin, that shows up in his Reception Perception success rate vs. coverage scores.
Turning in a 77.9 percent success rate vs. man coverage, Hamilton cleared the 90th percentile among prospects charted over the last three classes. When a corner lines up over him man-to-man, he shows the quickness and technique to smoothly get himself open. Even on the routes where he saw press coverage (46 attempts), Hamilton showed a clean release. His 82.6 percent success rate fell along the 92nd percentile.
You can certainly make the case for Calvin Ridley as the most polished route runner in this class and you might have to give him the edge because he played outside. However, Reception Perception shows that no receiver in the 2018 draft class separates better than DaeSean Hamilton.
As a likely interior receiver, Hamilton will likely see more zone coverage in the NFL than he does man-to-man defense. Reception Perception bears that out among slot receivers tested since the methodology’s creation. Hamilton’s 82.2 percent success rate vs. zone coverage falls at the 89th percentile. No matter what you throw at this player, he’s going to get open more often than not.
As a slot receiver in the NFL, Hamilton will see the majority of his usage come on short and intermediate patterns. With that in mind, it was not surprising to see those routes populate his collegiate assignment. However, his chart comes with a fair degree of balance.
While the out and dig patterns stand out as routes he ran at an above rate, the intermediate areas weren’t the only places Hamilton roamed. Deep routes like the corner and post were represented at or above the prospect average, as well as a short route like the flat.
Too often we think a slot receiver as being a check-down option. The position is evolving in today’s NFL. A receiver who can run deep and intermediate routes along with ancillary dump off patterns brings an additional edge to the slot.
Viewing Hamilton’s success rate parsed out by individual routes truly helps put his technical prowess into perspective. Hamilton’s scores on slants (82.8 percent), curls (88.9 percent) and flats (90 percent) are outrageously good. He can make a living at the NFL level creating layup throws for his quarterback on those routes alone with his pristine separation ability.
Things get a bit more interesting down the route tree, however. Hamilton also showed well on the deep patterns like the post, nine and corner. We shouldn’t view this player as just an unathletic technician. He has the juice to get down the field and create big plays.
Reception Perception is always going to highlight players of Hamilton’s archetype. The receivers who can create consistent separation with their route-running, whether it be with deception, technique, quickness or a combination of it all, these players know how to win at the NFL level. The pro-level is a technician’s game. You can’t out-athlete defenders at the next level, you need nuance. Players like Hamilton have it and that’s why this methodology looks so fondly on them.
Route-running and separation is key to being a slot receiver at the next level. Yet, what we’re seeing in the league today is interior receivers becoming featured piece. This brand of slot receivers creates after the catch and can win high-leverage passes in tight coverage. Hamilton checks both boxes.
With such high success rates on routes with a sharp in-breaking stem like the slant and post, it was good to see Hamilton make plays with the ball in his hands. The Penn State receiver broke two-plus tackles on 30.8 percent of his in-space attempts. Only the after the catch dynamo, Carlos Henderson, from the 2017 class and the stunningly athletic, Courtland Sutton, of this year posted higher multiple broken tackle rates.
Going back to the those strangely misplaced concerns about his hands, Hamilton also showed well on contested catches. While he’s a great separator, it wasn’t uncommon to see his quarterback throw him into contested situations. It didn’t matter; Hamilton showed he could come through. Over the game sampled for Reception Perception, 25 percent of Hamilton’s targets went down as a contested catch attempt. He hauled in 77.8 percent of those chances, clearing the 88th percentile. It’s hard to see that and come away thinking there are concerns about this player’s hands.
In a class full of complementary receivers who will likely find homes playing in the slot or out wide as flankers, DaeSean Hamilton has yet to get the publicity he deserves. We shouldn’t be surprised. Technically detailed receivers like him fall through the cracks every year. While upside-addicted traditionalists comb through every possible haystack to find the No. 1 wide receiver needle, players like Hamilton who run good routes and just get open go overlooked.
Back in 2016, that player was Sterling Shepard. While the community obsessed over players over highlight-stackers like Corey Coleman and Josh Doctson or stood up for players with a pedigree like Tyler Boyd, the technically-detailed Shepard grabbed a role right away and has been productive with his chances. Don’t be surprised if Hamilton, who is likely to get drafted much later than Shepard did that season, finds his way onto the field early because of his nuanced routes and makes it tough to take him off it with his solid production.
DaeSean Hamilton is easily the most underrated wide receiver in this draft class. Reception Perception shows that he’s a strong separator heading to a league that should be valuing players who create open windows for quarterbacks more than ever. Hamilton will take the path ridden with fewer learning curve obstacles to become a strong contributor at the next level.
Don’t miss previous 2018 rookie Reception Perception articles and the Introduction to the 2018 Reception Perception Project