Last season, the Broncos ranked 32nd in the NFL in yards per return with 4.4 and 30th in total return yards. If we combine the last two years for Denver, they are dead last in the NFL in yards per return with 5.54 yards.
Since Super Bowl 50, we continue to talk about how the Broncos haven’t been able to get back to the playoffs. Every year, we talk about how the offense continues to struggle from the quarterback to the offensive line and how the defense has to carry them. Don’t forget about the special teams, though.
In the 2016 playoffs, the Broncos’ special teams was outstanding, with Britton Colquitt flipping the field, and gunners Cody Latimer and Kayvon Webster making plays before the opposing returner could make any damage. Since then, however, Denver’s special teams have gone downhill fast.
The Broncos entered training camp looking for someone to stand out as a punt returner, but we are entering the fourth preseason game and the team still has no clue who their punt returner is going to be. Denver has fumbled the ball twice in this preseason on punt returns. The returners wearing the orange and blue are only averaging 3.3 yards per return, which ranks them second to last in the NFL only ahead of the Bears.
Denver could solve this issue by putting Phillip Lindsay out there just like the Bears use Tarik Cohen, Chiefs use Tyreek Hill and Patriots use Julian Edelman. Use your best players to make big plays.
Now, the Broncos have also been horrific in their coverage teams by not being able to tackle and Vic Fangio has talked about possibly throwing starters out there to improve the special teams. Denver doesn’t have a leader in this phase of the game, like they have in the past with Keith Burns or David Bruton. Who could be that next star on special teams?
Tim Patrick is looking to not only make the team as the number three receiver, but also on special teams as a gunner. During the joint practices against the 49ers, Patrick was making a name for himself in both punt protection and as a gunner. Patrick looked like Kevin Garnett boxing out his man so that he wouldn’t touch his punt returner.
The punting hasn’t been great either during the years under Riley Dixon and now Colby Wadman. In the last two years, the Broncos have yet to have a punter finish the season in the top 20 in net average, despite kicking at altitude for half their games.
Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon has coached great punters like Pat MacAfee and Rigoberto Sanchez for the Colts. A former NFL punter told me that “McMahon asks his punters to do non-traditional things, but Wadman just isn’t very talented.” Don’t be shocked if the Broncos go out and sign another punter after the final cuts to compete with Wadman as the leading punter for the Broncos.
Brandon McManus isn’t getting away, either. There have been multiple kicks that he has missed in training camp this year, as well. McManus can fix the Broncos kickoff coverage by just kicking the ball out of the end zone every time. The Broncos would rather have their opponent start from the 25-yard line instead of the 45-yard line each drive.
If the Broncos want to be successful this season, they must play well in all three phases of the game. To get there, their special teams are going to have to improve a lot.