Will Isaiah McKenzie enhance the Denver Broncos’ special teams by using his return skills to ignite a spark to the team’s kick and punt return units?
The Denver Broncos selected Isaiah McKenzie, a wide receiver from Georgia, in the fifth round of the 2017 NFL Draft. The team selected him to be the team’s new kick and punt returner and occasionally be the team’s slot receiver. McKenzie stands at just 5-7 and weighs a mere 173 pounds, making him one of the smallest wide receivers in the league. His size won’t be much of an issue, because the team plans on using him mainly on special teams.
However, he will infuse a lot of speed to the offense and special teams. He ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the Combine and ran a remarkable 6.64-second three-cone drill, which ranks in the 92nd percentile amongst wide receiver prospects.
McKenzie’s amazing three-cone time means that he has immense short-area quickness, making it easy for him to weave around defender while returning kicks. Being exceptionally quick makes it easier for him to get in and out of his breaks while running routes, another reason why he will a mismatch against linebackers.
He wasn’t a hyper productive player in college, catching just 44 receptions for 633 yards and seven touchdowns during his collegiate career. He also managed to rush for 329 yards and four touchdowns. The Broncos are not planning to use him much as a wide receiver, making his college production is almost innocuous.
McKenzie provided a lot of value to the Georgia Bulldogs as a punt and kick returner. He returned 59 punts for 692 yards and five touchdowns and 16 kicks for 373 yards and one touchdowns during his collegiate career.
One thing to note, is that he played in the SEC, which is one of the most athletic conferences in the country, making his punt and kick return production even more remarkable. This means he has experience playing against top level athletes which should allow his skill-set to almost instantly transition to the NFL level.
The Denver Broncos averaged 8.5 yards per punt return last year, ranking 15th in the league. Their longest punt return of the season was just a dismal 25 yards. The team did a little better on kick returns, averaging 22.9 yards per return, ranking 11th in the league. However, that number is skewed a little bit because Denver tied for last place with just 21 kick returns.
Judging off of last year’s stats, McKenzie can definitely provide a much needed spark on special teams which would help the offense by starting drives with better field position. He is also a threat to score from anywhere on the football field, an added bonus considering that Denver was unable to run back any kick or punt returns for touchdowns last year.
While playing offense, he can serve as the fourth of fifth option in the slot. His short-area quickness presents a mismatch for linebackers and the team will try to move him around exploit any mismatches that may be present. His speed provides an extra dynamic. Defensive backs will have to be aware of the deep third of the football field when McKenzie is deployed. This should help Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders to work underneath the coverage.
This was a smart draft pick for the Broncos. McKenzie fills a pressing need for the team and he is talented enough to outplay his draft position. The Broncos only spent a fifth-round pick on him, making him a very palatable investment. With limited draft capital spent, Denver can easily chose to go in another direction if things don’t pan out. However, his physical tools show he’s a very talented player and has the potential to become a corner stone asset to the team.