For the Broncos, punt and kick returners have not had the biggest influence in recent years. Why? Well Denver’s offense has been one of the best in the league in recent times and we have been spoiled as Peyton Manning has led the team to ridiculous offensive figures. The past few years, it didn’t matter where Denver got the ball because we all knew they would be scoring.

With the John Fox era over in Denver and Gary Kubiak taking the help, this is a big change that will certainly impact punt returners. As Denver transitions into a run-first offense, they are going to need to do better than the 7.2 yards per return they got last season. Simply waving the ball in isn’t going to cut it. But who is going to be returning punts for the Broncos?

Let’s take a look at the candidates:

26-year-old safety Omar Bolden is a high-0intensity player who is on the team for his excellent plays on special teams. While Bolden has had some experience with punt returning in college and with the Broncos, would he be able to produce for a whole season? Bolden is young guy who wants to help the team anyway he can. Talking earlier this year about the potential of returning kicks for the Broncos, Bolden said, “I’m going to go on and say that is my job. I want it and I want it bad. I want to lead the league in kick return yards. I’m trying to score a lot of touchdowns for the team and have exciting plays for us on special teams.” He’s shown he can return kicks with limited success. Could he do the same with punts? Bolden will have his shot in training camp to prove it to the coaches.

23-year-old Isaiah Burse was the player most used as a punt returner for the Broncos in 2014. Burse led the Broncos with 29 returns for 211 yards (7.3 avg.) last season. He was surprisingly waived in December, and Wes Welker took over punt return duties. Now back with the team for upcoming training camp, Burse will have the chance to prove once again that he deserves the punt return duties.

28-year-old Jordan Norwood has been a journeyman throughout his career but now in Denver he may be able to settle down. Norwood has the ability to return to kicks. He has shown in preseason games before that he has been reliable, and has the ability to make people miss. Add the fact that Norwood has lightning speed and he could be the perfect return man. Having battled injuries throughout his career, if Norwood can stay healthy he could be a huge asset in the return game for the Broncos.

24-year-old Soloman Patton is very used to returning both punts and kickoffs. Patton was a great returner in college, averaging 29.2 yards a return one season. So far in his career, Patton averaged 11.2 yards from 10 punt returns during his time with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Claimed off waivers by the Broncos in early May, Patton will be looking to repay the faith and prove in training camp that he is the guy to handle both duties.

28-year-old Emmanuel Sanders has been an instant success since coming to the Broncos in 2014. He has quickly become Manning’s favorite target and his gritty no-fear attitude has made him one of the best wide receivers in the NFL. Punt returning is also a facet of Sanders game that is underrated. In his career, Sanders has totaled 17 punt returns for 186 yards (10.9 avg.). Only returning one punt last season for the Broncos, his value at a wide receiver may be one the biggest factors from allowing him to take over all punt returns. But will Denver risk putting one of Manning’s best targets right in the line of fire in the kicking game?

26-year-old Kyle Williams is the final candidate. Williams, who is often remembered for his fateful fumble in the 2011 NFC Championship Game, still has potential to become a good NFL player. In his career, Williams has 21 punt returns for 170 yards (8.1avg.). Williams will certainly get his opportunity during training camp to impress the coaches with his skills.

The last three seasons, Denver has not ranked higher than 18th in average yards per return. This absolutely needs to change this upcoming season because the Broncos offense will be more of a run-first team, which is predicated on having good field position.

Punt returners like Devin Hester and Dante Hall are very rare and realistically speaking, Denver does not have a guy of this caliber on the team. That being said, there is a good group of players listed above that special teams coach Joe DeCamillis will be able to choose from and select the returner he see’s as the best choice to lead the team.

So, who do you want returning punts?


Sammy Mugharbil, a Mile High Sports intern and MSU-Denver student contributed to this report