Each week this offseason, we’ll be focusing on one position and how the Panthers may choose to address their needs; whether they’re in the market for an upgrade at starter or just a reliable backup, every player on the 53-man roster is going to be important in 2018.

This is Wide Receiver Week.

In an ideal world, the Panthers would be able to add an elite wide receiver prospect in the 2018 draft. Unfortunately, we don’t always live in an ideal world, and the 2018 draft class is rather short of elite receiver prospects. With this in mind, should the Panthers look to add to their receiving group in the upcoming draft, they will likely be forced to decide between a prospect who might develop into a star and one who might be able to contribute, albeit with limits, from day one. If they opt for the latter, then Penn State’s DaeSean Hamilton could be somebody they look to target when the draft enters it’s middle rounds.

The Basics

For any receiver, the ability to catch is (obviously) a key skill, and while DaeSean Hamilton mostly shows good hands on tape, there are some questions here that aren’t all that easy to answer. While Trace McSorely is an exciting college quarterback, pinpoint accuracy is not something he is known for and this shows when trying to evaluate Hamilton. On a significant percentage of his targets, Hamilton is asked to make significant adjustments in order to make the catch, which leads to both some spectacular receptions as well as some frustrating incompletions.

On longer passes, he actually shows an impressive ability to track the ball in the air and to make tough, contested catches; such as on the following plays:



However, on slants and drags in particular, he struggled to adjust to balls thrown behind him; even when he did make the receptions, the ball placement tended to significantly limit the effectiveness of the route. On the following play, Hamilton does well to fake the outside route before breaking in, but the ball being placed behind him forces him to freeze and allows the defender to make the tackle for a limited gain.


Hamilton does show an ability to make these contested catches, but the receiver drills at the combine should offer some valuable evidence as to where on the scale from good to great he lies in terms of purely catching the ball. However, barring a drop-prone performance in Indianapolis, Hamilton showed sufficient ball skills in college for teams to not worry about his ability to be successful with regards to catching the ball.


The Limits

Besides some lingering concerns about his hands, the biggest factor that will likely limit how teams see Hamilton is his athleticism. That is not to say that Hamilton is a bad athlete, but rather that teams are unlikely to be wooed by what are expected to be unspectacular combine numbers.He is currently expected to run somewhere in the 4.5s and, at 6’1″ and a little over 200 pounds, he is not going to wow anybody with his athleticism.

That does not mean that Hamilton cannot run by people, but rather that any team looking for a receiver to stretch the field will likely want to look elsewhere.


However, with Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd looking to return, the Panthers are unlikely to be in need of speed at wide receiver, but rather the ability to consistently separate underneath; that is where Hamilton’s real value lies.

A Degree of Separation

For receivers who can’t rely on simply running away from defenders, the ability to separate against man coverage largely comes down to their ability to get release off the line and to then separate through well-run routes. Despite playing predominantly in the slot, Hamilton actually saw a lot more press coverage than most receiver prospects; he also showed the ability to get release at the line of scrimmage, a skill that will be highly valuable should teams want to use him on the outside as well as in the slot.

The main way in which Hamilton was able to get release was by attacking the defender at the head of the route; rather than immediately breaking from the line, Hamilton takes a step or two into the frame of the defender, thereby flat-footing the defender and allowing Hamilton to get separation with the first step of his break.



When he looks to get vertical against press, he is able to create a clear running lane by quickly faking the outside break before showing a nice turn of pace to get past the defender before he can get back in from of him.


As a route runner in space, Hamilton again shows an understanding of how to manipulate defenders to create separation. On the following play, he again attacks the head of the route before breaking inside, this causes the defender to hesitate at the biting point and allows Hamilton to separate. This might not seem like a complex concept, but this understanding of how to use route running to separate is actually quite unusual for a receiver of his experience.


By comparison, running a similar route against zone, Hamilton doesn’t hesitate in the same way and just quickly breaks inside to the gap in the zone. This not only demonstrates his ability as a route runner, but also suggest an understanding of coverages which is extremely valuable at the next level.


The other area in which Hamilton separates himself as a route runner is the way in which he is able to change direction while maintaining momentum. Often, receivers lose a lot of their momentum around a break, or round off their routes in order to try and carry the speed through the route; by being able to sharply change direction without losing much speed, Hamilton is able to create enough space to make the catch and run afterwards.


These skills show their value when it comes to third downs. On plays such as the following, Hamilton’s ability to create quick separation makes him extremely valuable as he is able to get open underneath against tight coverage and secures the catch for a first down.


Hamilton didn’t run the complete NFL route tree at Penn State (almost no colleges do), but what he demonstrates on tape is the requisite core skills for teams to be highly encouraged about his potential ability as a route runner at the NFL level.

The Extras

Receivers generally aren’t drafted for their blocking ability, but receivers who struggle in this area can actually be a significant issue for offenses. While Hamilton is unlikely to be driving linebackers off the sidelines anytime soon, he shows both a willingness to contribute as a blocker, as well as some basic competency.



Additionally, Hamilton also shows some ability to pick up yards after the catch. Again, this alone is not a reason for drafting a receiver, but when combined with his possession-style of play, it allows for simple short passes to keep the offense ahead of the chains, such as on the following play,


Hamilton was even occasionally used on screens, and while this probably won’t have defenses up at night, it adds another facet to his game which will allow him to contribute consistently. When combined with his ability to gain separation underneath, this ability after the catch allows short quick passes to lead to big gains.


Not every slant will gain twenty yards, but the ability to turn these short passes into big plays just adds further value to Hamilton as a prospect.


Nothing Hamilton does is exceptional, and there are reasons why he is likely to still be available towards the end of the draft’s second day, but his ability to consistently offer an underneath possession option from either the slot or outside with his ability after the catch offering some upside, he would give the Panthers a nice complimentary piece to their existing receiver group at a minimal cost. He is unlikely to ever be seen as a #1 receiving option on a team, but he could step into the #2 role that is currently missing from the Panthers’ existing receiver group.

Best Case Comparison: Keenan Allen
Worst Case Comparison: Stevie Johnson
One Sentence To Tell Your Friends and Sound Smart: “Has the route running skills to be a reliable possession receiver at the NFL, with enough speed and ability in the open field to be more than a one trick pony”
Grade: B


Vincent Richardson on Twitter
Vincent Richardson
Managing Editor at Riot Report
Fan of zone coverage, knee bend and running backs running routes. Twitter: @vrichardson444