DaeSean Hamilton has had an impressive last few weeks for a prospect trying to raise his draft stock prior to the Combine. The Penn State WR had himself a nice week during the Shrine Game festivities and then balled out in Mobile, Alabama during the week of practices at the Senior Bowl. His superb showing led me to grade Hamilton as the top performing wide receiver in Mobile for my Senior Bowl WR Recap. He impressed with excellent foot quickness to beat press man coverage into his releases all week. Hamilton also excelled with his suddenness and deceptiveness in his route running to create separation against the North Team CBs.
It’s evident throughout my film study of Hamilton that he has no trouble getting open. He’ll be a perfect slot compliment to any offense in need of the position and has the press beating ability to also take snaps from the Z. Despite all the positives to rave about there is a part of Hamilton’s Draft profile that’s concerning and has been circling in the Draft community. That concern being Hamilton’s ability to routinely catch the ball.
On tape and live in Mobile I’ve recognized Hamilton is inconsistent with his hands. The drops are mainly due to technique and a lack of concentration. It has probably affected how some view him as a prospect overall. However, I’m actually not overly concerned about his hands or drops. It’s something to note in an attempt to project all the potential range of outcomes Hamilton could become as a pro. Not a fatal flaw. I liked Will Fuller as a player coming out of Notre Dame in the 2016 NFL Draft. He had adequate hands and has played very well complimenting DeAndre Hopkins in Houston. Not to say Hamilton is Fuller, but to provide an example of a WR succeeding in spite of some issues with his mitts coming out of college.
The oddity of the negative surrounding Hamilton’s hands is that he’s actually a very good contested catch receiver. I’ve noted many times how well he’s able to shield the defender off, adjust his body and time his leap to come down with a contested grab.
Let’s take four plays to hyper-focus on why Hamilton is only solid at the one trait, hands, and very good at the other, contested catches.
The first play to study is against Michigan. The Nittany Lions are leading the Wolverines 21-13 and have their offense just outside the Michigan 20. It’s 3rd and 3 and a conversion on 3rd down here would go a long way toward strengthening their lead. Hamilton is lined up in the slot across from one of Michigan’s better CB’s, Lavert Hill (#24), who’s playing press man coverage.
Michigan sends pressure via S Khaleke Hudson (#7) who was creeping into the box prior to the snap. This allows a throwing window to develop for Trace McSorely (#9) to deliver a completion to Hamilton. At the line of scrimmage Hamilton is able to vary his pace as he releases into his stem. He sells an outside release with a jab and head fake before breaking to the inside. This combination causes Hill to false step, allowing Hamilton to gain inside leverage. Once inside the defender, McSorely throws to Hamilton, who makes the critical 3rd down completion on the slant.
Despite the positive result there is a lot we can learn about how to gauge Hamilton’s ability to catch the ball. The following two images of Hamilton completing the aforementioned catch are key to understanding why his hands are inconsistent.
A notable detail is that Hamilton’s hand positioning is too wide. He’s not going to be able to catch this ball without the ball getting into his body. This will cause him to fight the ball more often than not. When receivers position their hands this way they usually try to clap the ball, which reduces the chances of cleanly securing the catch. It also leads to more drops. The encouraged technique is to form a diamond with your hands and quickly tuck it to secure it all the way through the process.
The ball found its way through Hamilton’s wide hand positioning to his left outside shoulder. The placement of this ball is ideal in this scenario, with the trailing defender draped on his back as Hill tries to undercut the throw and break up the play from the inside. To Hamilton’s credit he does a nice job of corralling the catch and keeping the ball protected from the CB as he makes his way to the ground. Yet, it’s understandable why he isn’t always sure handed.
Against Michigan State, Hamilton ran a similar route from the slot, but against off coverage. This time his hand positioning caused him to drop the pass on 1st and 10 inside the Michigan State 30. The RPO call on this play causes the safety to run to the line of scrimmage as McSorely offers RB Saquon Barkley (#26) the ball at the mesh point. McSorely reads the defender in conflict and decides to keep and throw to an open Hamilton with no defender to disrupt the slant inside.
It’s difficult to see as the game isn’t the highest quality, but you can notice Hamilton’s arm action. The Penn State receiver readies his hands to make the catch, but the ball once again makes it way to his body. He tries to trap it with his arms similarly to the completion against Michigan before, but to no avail. The ball might have been thrown slightly behind the receiver, but this is a catch you want to see made in the NFL.
A play earlier Hamilton made a spectacular contested catch that put Penn State in good position to score. Hamilton is allowed a free release from the slot and gets behind the LB Antjuan Simmons (#34). He then breaks inside on a post route in a soft area of the defense between the safeties and LB.
As McSorely delivers the pass – Hamilton slows himself down and leaps while displaying excellent body control to adjust to the ball thrown behind him and to shield himself from the oncoming safety from his left. Hamilton somehow manages to hang onto the ball as he takes a significant hit, despite bracing himself as the opposite field safety attempts to jar the ball free. The key to this play is Hamilton’s on field awareness and ability to position himself to be able to absorb the contact on this contested grab.
It’s impressive for Hamilton to make those kind of plays in the middle of the field, but he’s also able to make tough catches in 1 on 1 situations from the slot. Hamilton ran slot fades at Penn State and was able to come down with those catches while displaying excellent leaping ability, timing and body control.
On 3rd and 8 Penn State lines up in 11 personnel from their own 26. Hamilton is in the slot with the CB playing off coverage. Hamilton accelerates into his route and jabs inside with a head fake, but the CB doesn’t bite. Hamilton probably could have pressed the CB more to make this more effective. However, Hamilton’s speed allows him to get slight separation. He and the defender battle for position by hand fighting as McSorely lobs up the fade. Hamilton has superior position compared to the CB because the defender has his back to the ball. Hamilton times his jump and the ball falls into his arms forming a basket for the catch. The CB attempts to break the play up, but Hamilton is once again able to maintain possession and strongly bring the ball to the ground with him.
Hamilton’s ability to catch does present a concern because of how he positions his hands prior to the catch. Yet, he’s oddly able to fight and hold onto the ball in contested catch situations while tightly securing the ball to his body. The way Hamilton creates immediate separation into his release and runs effectively sharp routes should outweigh his inconsistencies with his hands – making him a very good slot receiver in the NFL.
A WR evaluator I highly respect, Brad Kelly, did an excellent report on Hamilton for Cover 1. Give it a read for a more holistic perspective on the Penn State WR.