Giger: Hamler’s production helps offset awful year for WRs
It’s staggering how bad Penn State’s wide receivers have been this season.
I shudder to think what the Nittany Lions’ offense would look like without KJ Hamler, a very impressive redshirt freshman.
We all thought veterans Juwan Johnson and DeAndre Thompkins would be PSU’s top receivers. Instead, they’ve been the team’s biggest disappointments.
Hamler has 33 catches. Johnson (21) and Thompkins (17) have combined for just 38.
Hamler has caught five TDs. Johnson has caught only one and Thompkins two.
Hamler has 552 yards receiving. That’s more than the combined total of 507 by Johnson (293) and Thompkins (214).
Brandon Polk hasn’t been a big factor, either, with just nine catches for 162 yards, although he does have two TDs.
This Penn State offense looks nothing like the incredible machine we saw the past two years that could spread the field and score at will. There are several obvious reasons for that, including major player and coaching losses, but perhaps the biggest issue is that these receivers simply can’t get the job done with regards to getting open and making plays.
Hamler, at 5-foot-9 and 173 pounds, is lightning quick and just has a knack for finding open space among defenders. He’s already a good route runner and has sure hands, traits that none of the veteran wideouts have shown this season.
There’s no doubt, from this view, that quarterback Trace McSorley lost faith in his receivers early this season and felt the need to have to do everything himself. That has led to McSorley keeping the ball and running far too often in the run-pass option, which inevitably led to him getting banged up and hurting his production.
McSorley, however, has kept his faith in Hamler and has thrown to him more and more as the season has progressed. Hamler has caught five passes in three of the past five games, picking up even more slack with Johnson out injured.
True freshman tight end Pat Freiermuth also has become a reliable target for McSorley, catching 19 passes, including four touchdowns.
When the Lions have needed to make a play in the passing game, it’s often been Hamler and Freiermuth getting it done. Freshman Jahan Dotson also has become more of a factor lately, with nine catches in the past four games after not playing in the six contests.
Neil is absolutely right to point out that freshman linebacker Micah Parsons leading the defense in tackles without having started a game is a remarkable stat. Everyone figured Parsons would be a star, and he’s off to a strong start in that regard this year.
Still, I’m going with Hamler here because, without him, I seriously wonder how well PSU’s already disappointing offense would have been able to move the ball all year.
Cory Giger is at email@example.com.