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PSU record-setter Hamilton steps up to score first NFL touchdown

Saquon Barkley once again commanded a national spotlight on Sunday, totaling nearly 200 yards and scoring twice in a New York Giants win at Washington. Across the country, in Santa Clara, Calif., former Penn State teammate and fellow NFL rookie DaeSean Hamilton also delivered.

Thrust into a featured role with the Denver Broncos following veteran Emmanuel Sanders‘ season-ending Achilles injury, Hamilton caught his first NFL touchdown Sunday afternoon. He snagged a one-yard fourth-down pass completion from quarterback Case Keenum with approximately four minutes remaining in a matchup vs. the San Francisco 49ers.

“I thought DaeSean came up today huge,” Keenum told 247Sports’ Chad Jensen.

His score (video in Tweet below) kept Denver in contention late, but San Fransisco ultimately prevailed 20-14. That result halts a three-game win streak, drops Denver to 6-7 and deals a substantial blow to the Broncos’ playoff chances.

From an individual standpoint, the contest represented a step forward for Hamilton, who departed Penn State as the program’s all-time leader in career receptions (214). The Denver receiver situation has undergone drastic changes this season due to the loss of long-established franchise veterans Sanders and Demaryius Thomas, who was traded to the Houston Texans in October.

“You’ve got to have self confidence in yourself,” Hamilton told Jensen last week while discussing preparation for expanded opportunities. “Then I see guys making plays all of the time, I see guys my age making plays all of the time — there’s a reason why I’m in the NFL.”

Teammates also expressed confidence in his ability to emerge when called upon.

“Whatever we’ve asked him to do, he’s done it,” Keenum told Jensen prior to the San Francisco matchup. “… I think he’s a guy that we’ve been trying to feature more and more over the last couple of weeks. It’s going to be exciting to see, the last quarter of the season and the end of this year to see how he continues to develop.”

Hamilton entered Sunday with five catches for 61 yards in his rookie campaign. Against the 49ers, he recorded seven receptions for 47 yards and a touchdown. His nine pass targets were more than he’d seen through 10 game appearances in 2018.

Denver moves forward with three regular-season games remaining, hosting the Cleveland Browns on Saturday night. The Broncos must win out to sustain any realistic possibility of a playoff appearance, and Hamilton figures to be a prominent figure as December progresses. A strong finish could help solidify long-term plans for him within the franchise, potentially setting the stage for full-time starter’s reps in 2019.

Hamilton was one of six Penn State players picked in the 2018 NFL Draft. Denver selected him 113th overall, midway through the fourth round.

He led all Nittany Lions players with 857 receiving yards in 2017, and tied for the team lead with nine touchdown catches. Three years earlier, Hamilton led the Big Ten with 82 receptions as a redshirt freshman.

“To me, he’s that guy that the quarterback’s going to love on third down,” Penn State coach James Franklin said in a post-draft article published by the Broncos. “He’s going to be very reliable. He’s going to make a bunch of contested catches. He’s going to understand the big picture. He’s going to be a great teammate. He’s going to be unselfish. There’s a lot of value in that.”

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