With the end of the season comes futures contracts as the Buffalo Bills look to build out their 90-man roster for 2024. One of these signings is former second round pick WR KJ Hamler.
The shifty wide receiver came out of Penn State as a top option in the slot in the 2020 NFL draft, selected by the Denver Broncos in the second round. Unfortunately, Hamler has not lived up to his draft status due to a series of rather significant injuries.
Hamler is looking to rebound and show his potential in an offense that needs speed. Below is KJ Hamler’s publicly reported injury history and concerns moving forward.
2016 Left ACL Tear
Hamler suffered a left ACL tear during a preseason game in his first action with IMG Academy down in Florida. This came after he transferred from his home in Michigan. Despite the injury, he still signed with Penn State and redshirted his freshman year as he worked himself back into shape.
2017-2019 Penn State
No publicly reported injuries
Hamler declined testing for all of the Combine testing that involved running or jumping due to a hamstring strain suffered while training.
2020 Denver Broncos
Hamstring strain, side not specified, missed majority of the preseason
Roughly a week into the preseason, Hamler suffered a hamstring strain that kept him nearly the entire preseason. There was discussion at one point whether he would begin the season on injured reserve but the team elected not to and he missed only the season opener.
Hamstring strain, Week 4, missed 1 game
Hamler appeared to aggravate his still healing hamstring strain in Week 4 which forced him to miss the following week against the New England Patriots.
Concussion, Week 16, missed 1 game
Hammer managed to stay relatively healthy the remainder of the season until suffering a concussion in Week 16. He was placed in concussion protocol and missed the final game of the season.
Hamstring tweak, side not specified, OTA’s
Hamlet tweaked his hamstring at some point in early June prior to mandatory minicamp. The team was cautious given his issues the prior season and likely missed at least several practices.
COVID August 3
Hamler was placed on the COVID/Reserve list early in training camp but was able to come off the list very shortly according to reports.
Torn Left ACL, left hip dislocation, Week 3, missed 14 games
In Week 3 of the 2021 season, Hamler went out on a deep pass to the left side of the field and landed with his left leg fully extended. Due to landing with his leg extended, he not only tore his ACL when the leg hyperextended, the force landing with his knee straightened out led to his hip dislocating.
He would miss the remainder of the season rehabbing from both injuries that required surgery.
Left Knee, Questionable Week 1, played
Left Knee, Out, Week 2
Left Knee, Questionable Week 3, played
As Hamler was still recovering from his second ACL tear and hip dislocation, he started the season on PUP. He was unable to lead for most of training camp and was able to play in Week 1 despite a questionable designation.
He was downgraded to out in Week 2, missing the game before returning in Week 3.
Hamstring strain, side not specified, Week 8, missed 3 games, setback, missed 9 total games
In Week 8, Hamler suffered yet another hamstring strain that initially kept him out three games. Unfortunately, during rehab, he suffered a setback that was significant enough that he was placed on injured reserve, ending his season. He ultimately missed nine total games.
2023 Broncos/Indianapolis Colts
Torn pectoral, side not specified, March 2023
While training in the offseason, Hamler tore his pectoral muscle in March of that year. This forced him to undergo yet another surgery and he missed most of the offseason workouts.
Pericarditis, July, waived on NFI
Prior to training camp, Hamler started experiencing chest pains while working out. After further testing, it was revealed that Hamler had pericarditis and would be out of football as he stepped away. He was later waived on the non-football injury list.
After being waived, he later signed with the Indianapolis Colts practice squad at the end of September where he stayed until the end of the season.
Buffalo Bills Injury Impact
Two ACL tears on the same knee, a dislocated hip, pericarditis, pectoral tear, concussion, and several hamstring strains make up KJ Hamler’s injury concerns dating back to high school.
Looking at his injury history, the only injuries that aren’t concerning is the pectoral tear and concussion. Pectoral tears unfortunately happen with bench pressing but even after repair, there are minimal concerns for re-injury and performance generally does not decrease. As for the concussion, it’s a common injury and this appears to have been an isolated incident.
Addressing his ACL tears, the first one happened eight years ago and the other will be three years removed once the season starts. He is outside the two-year re-tear window. It’s not impossible to think he could tear again, but it’s unfortunately a known risk when signing a player such as this. Many players who suffer a third ACL tear usually aren’t returning to play high-level football.
The dislocated hip is a pretty rare injury in itself without a ton of comparables. The only ones that have come to mind recently are former Ravens TE Dennis Pitta, former Bills QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, current Jets LB CJ Mosley, current Lions RB Mohamed Ibrahim, and Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa.
All returned to play except for Fitzpatrick who was at the end of his career and Ibrahim as he suffered it midway through his rookie season. Pitts had recurring dislocations which forced him to eventually retire. This injury is certainly career altering but not career ending especially as Hamler did also return to play.
The hamstring strains are certainly a big issue that could hamper his availability should he suffer another strain. It’s been nearly two years since his last known hamstring strain. Once again, he is outside the window for a repeat hamstring strain but still a big concern.
Finally, pericarditis is the most recent concern. Pericarditis is the inflammation and swelling of the thin saclike membrane around the heart. The sacs around the heart rub together causing sharp pains. The cause of the condition is largely unknown but can be caused by a virus or heart attack. Considering we know that Hamler did not have a heart attack, it’s likely he had some type of virus. It’s not unreasonable to consider that COVID or another virus could have caused this.
Keep in mind, this is a different condition from myocarditis that affected former Bills tight end Tommy Sweeney during the 2020 season.
Pericarditis can occur again in the future and if left untreated, can cause further problems such as cardiac tamponade. This could cause the heart from filling properly leading to drops in blood pressure and require emergency treatment.
Fortunately, he was able to get the treatment that he needed and was subsequently waived. After suffering the issue in July, he was eventually signed by the Colts and added onto the practice squad in September. This indicates that he passed a physical and is now healthy. The team will have to monitor him closer should he be feeling ill.
Looking at Hamler as a whole, there are a ton of concerns, but none that should outright prevent him from playing. He certainly has not had the career he envisioned coming out of Penn State but as a former second round pick, the potential is still there. He has shown the ability to stay healthy while at Penn State, but that was several years ago.
If Hamler does not succeed, a soft tissue injury specifically a hamstring or calf injury will be a likely culprit. Plenty of other injuries can occur, but any lost time especially during training camp will sink his chances.
His current situation would be likened to finding a scratched lottery ticket. Chances are, the value is known and it’s either worth nothing or very little. But, maybe you go cash it in, it’s worth a few bucks, and it’s found money. You didn’t invest any of your own money into it, but it could be worth your time to see what you have.
Signing him to a futures contract allows the Bills to bring him onto the 90-man roster without committing additional resources to him. If he pans out, it’s a great, cheap contract. If he has an injury or just doesn’t have it, they can move on from him.
I love the signing because there’s minimal commitment, he’s had a year off of football which has allowed his body to heal, and he’s a former Penn State player. (Full disclosure, I’m a Penn State fan).
We’ll see what comes of Hamler’s time with the Bills this offseason. This could pan out nicely for both parties or it could just double check to make sure they’re not missing what the rest of the league is seeing.
I wish him the best of luck in continuing his football journey.
Top Photo Credit: SI.com