For years, the Denver Broncos’ special teams unit has been anything but special.
In fact, the numbers last year were shockingly bad. Denver was atrocious in punt returning (dead last at 4.4 yards per return), terrible in punting and their kickoff return game was nonexistent.
Simply, if the Broncos want to compete and win on a more regular basis, they have to improve on offense, certainly, their defense needs to be top-tier, but we can’t forget about special teams. Playoff teams are solid in all three phases of the game, and Denver hasn’t been in years.
“We didn’t play good the other night against Seattle. They took it to us pretty good,” new head coach Vic Fangio said of his special teams unit in Game 2 of the preseason. “Our return game is up in the air as we’ve talked about here before so we need to, by the time we play Oakland, have some clarity there. We do not have any yet. I like the way [Brandon] McManus is kicking the ball. We had an off-night punting the ball the other night. Although the stats didn’t bare it out, he had a good roll one time and they had a bunch of penalties in their return game which statistically skewed the production of the punter. Hopefully that was just a one-game thing.”
As Fangio points out here, basically the lone shining star of that special teams unit has been Brandon McManus, who has the ability to boot the ball through the end zone on most kickoffs, disallowing opponents a chance at a return. But even McManus has room to grow from last year, specifically in the 50-plus yard field goal department. While he went a perfect 18-of-18 on kicks within 50 yards, he was a mere 2-of-7 on kicks over 50 yards.
Again, he was the one positive of the special teams last year.
The other man who uses his leg often, Colby Wadman, averaged a mere 44.7 yards per punt and took over for Marquette King after that experiment failed. The 44.7 yards per punt number isn’t terrible for Wadman, at 21st-best, but the net punting was 26th. That means, even when Wadman boomed a ball, the coverage team was allowing far too many yards on returns. In fact, the 10.5 yards per return the Broncos allowed last season was fourth-worst.
Coverage issues end at punting the ball, at least in 2018, where Denver allowed a mere 20.7 yards per kickoff return which was fourth-best in the NFL. So, the Broncos need to continue to build on that momentum and then extend it over into the punt coverage team as well.
Luckily, there are still three preseason games remaining for Fangio’s orange and blue team, and with any hope, they can improve greatly on special teams this season. There is, obviously, a lot of room for growth.