Now that the season is over, we’ll be looking at the players the Jets have signed to futures deals since the end of the season. We continue today with a look at wide receiver Keon Hatcher.
The 25-year old is listed at 6’1” and 215 pounds and has played in three regular season games at the NFL level, catching one pass. Hatcher, who was undrafted out of Arkansas in 2017, has spent most of his career with the Oakland Raiders but signed to the Jets’ practice squad in December and signed a futures deal at the end of the season.
Hatcher was a top-50 wide receiver prospect when he was recruited to Arkansas in 2012. He would go on to catch three passes, including one for a touchdown, as a true freshman.
His role increased over the next couple of seasons and he entered his senior year viewed as one of the SEC’s top receivers having caught 43 passes as a junior.
Hatcher’s senior year got off to a good start with 13 catches and two scores in his first two games, but he suffered a season-ending injury and opted to redshirt and return as a fifth-year senior. He set career-bests with 44 catches, 743 yards and eight scores the following year.
An injury slowed Hatcher during the pre-draft process and contributed to him going unselected but he was signed as an undrafted free agent by the Raiders and eventually spent his rookie year on their practice squad.
In 2018, he was still regarded as a long-shot, but had a huge game in the final preseason match-up, catching eight passes for 128 yards and three scores and earning a spot on the roster. Unfortunately, the Raiders had to release him after the first game because they needed his roster spot. After spending time on the Lions and Packers’ practice squads, Oakland brought him back and he played in two more games down the stretch.
Hatcher was released in final cuts in 2019 and spent two weeks on the Packers’ practice squad before the Jets signed him to their own practice squad with two weeks left in the season. They signed him to a futures deal after the season.
Now let’s take a look at what Hatcher brings to the table, divided into categories.
Hatcher has average size but is well built. He wasn’t 100 percent healthy for his combine and pro day workouts and only ran a 4.64 in the 40-yard dash which hurt his chances of being drafted. He usually plays faster than that on film though, and posted a solid 16 bench press reps at the combine.
Hatcher played primarily on the outside in college, but his skill-set is suited to a slot role and he has played and produced on the inside as well while with the Raiders.
In college, Hatcher rushed 21 times for 259 yards and a touchdown as he often carried the ball on end arounds and even sometimes as a wildcat quarterback. He also completed a pass on a successful two-point conversion.
Hatcher proved himself to be a downfield threat in college, where he averaged almost 17 yards per catch in his last season.
He made a lot of big plays down the field at Arkansas, although these were often as a result of blown coverages rather than him blowing past his man. However, in preseason action, he showed an ability to get a step deep on this well-executed stop and go move that could have led to a bigger play if the ball wasn’t underthrown.
Hatcher displays a quick first step that enables him to get early separation on routes, although he doesn’t always make sharp breaks, perhaps due to his upright running style.
On the play noted above, he made a good double-move to get open deep, which was actually something scouts felt he needed to improve upon so this shows signs of progress.
He shows some good physicality here to establish inside leverage, although he arguably could have been called for offensive pass interference.
Hatcher is a natural hands catcher who, according to PFF, had the largest number of targets without a drop (68, of which 44 were deemed catchable), in the nation in 2016.
He has shown an ability to go up and over defenders to make catches and to hang onto the ball in traffic. He’s also capable of highlight reel grabs.
Although he’s also been reliable in preseason action with the Raiders too, Hatcher has had a few uncharacteristic drops.
Against the Packers in preseason, his clutch fourth down catch set up the winning field goal, although he was lucky that a teammate came up with his fumble.
Of Hatcher’s four preseason touchdowns with the Raiders, only one came in the red zone and that was from 19 yards away as he has yet to provide a threat close to the goal line at the pro level.
He had 19 touchdown catches in his five seasons at Arkansas with all eight of his touchdowns in his final season coming from inside the red zone, though.
Yards after the catch
Hatcher generally does a good job of getting upfield and finishing strong after he makes the catch and his rushing numbers from college show how dangerous he can be with the ball in his hands.
He doesn’t break a ton of tackles, but shows an ability to do so from time to time.
Hatcher gives a good effort as a blocker and always graded out well in college, where he impressed on plays like this one.
He has also done a good job at the pro level, as he does a good job of moving his feet and seems to have decent strength and a good understanding of angles.
Hatcher needs to continue to work to improve his physicality when running routes as he can be re-routed at times. However, he does a good job of using his hands to get the defensive back off him.
As a blocker and a runner, Hatcher displays good physicality and he’s not afraid to go over the middle or come up with contested catches.
When Hatcher was battling for a roster spot in 2018, Jon Gruden had plenty of praise for the youngster, noting that his special teams contributions had helped his chances.
Hatcher is an option to play kick coverage and the gunner role on punts. He blew up a return impressively here.
He also has limited experience as a return man as he averaged 22.3 yards on 16 kickoff returns and also had a 21-yard punt return on his only attempt in college. In limited preseason action with the Raiders, he had an 18-yard kickoff return and a 14-yard punt return.
When Hatcher was with the Raiders, offensive coordinator Greg Olson praised Hatcher’s intelligence and he does have a knack for finding open spots in zone coverage.
Where his instincts are perhaps lacking is as a route runner, where he occasionally makes bad judgments and is unable to get open.
He displayed some good smarts on this play as he knew he wasn’t down and kept running to score a 45-yard touchdown.
Hatcher’s toughness impressed his teammate Derek Carr, who said Hatcher loves football and was willing to do the dirty work, especially as a blocker.
On the field, he has been disciplined with just one special teams penalty in his 12 preseason and three regular season games.
Hatcher was forced to redshirt in 2015 after suffering a broken foot in the second game of the season. He also was slowed by a hamstring issue during the 2016 season, which prevented him from doing a full workout at the combine or his pro day.
Although Hatcher has only seen game action with the Raiders, he’s also spent time with the Lions and Packers, as well as getting two weeks of practice with the Jets at the end of the 2019 season.
He noted that the Packers’ system and terminology was completely different to that of the Raiders, but was able to adjust before eventually returning to Oakland anyway.
Hatcher looked set for a bright future when he had his break-out game in the 2018 preseason. Unfortunately, he got lost in the shuffle at the bottom of the roster for the Raiders and never really got his shot, playing just six regular season snaps with them on offense.
He’s generally been productive in preseason action, so if he gets a shot at playing time with the Jets, he’s the kind of player who could turn a few heads.
Hatcher’s ability to contribute on special teams will serve him well and, while he will enter training camp as a long-shot to make the roster, there are spots available for anyone who steps up.