State of the 2016 Denver Broncos: Special Teams

Mile High Huddle brings you State of the Broncos—a position by position evaluation of the roster. The final edition focuses on special teams. Adam Uribes breaks it down.

In every given year, more than 20 percent of each NFL roster is turned over from the previous year.  This is apparent in this year’s Denver Broncos special teams unit since we will see new faces at as many as four key positions. This will include punt returner, kick returner, long snapper and punter. 

Departing will be Andre "Bubba" Caldwell, Omar Bolden, Emmanuel Sanders (the position, not the team) and Aaron Brewer.  Entering will be receiver Jordan Norwood, undrafted rookie wideout Bralon Addison, long snappers Casey Kreiter and Nathan Theus, along with surprise seventh-round pick, Riley Dixon.

In looking back at last year’s primary punt and kick returners, the coaching staff is looking for sure handedness and the ability to field the ball, with getting up field being secondary. 

This would look to favor Norwood, as he appeared to be the steadiest player handling the return duties late in the year, but don’t rule out a big play from the former Nittany Lion.  We all remember his return in the Super Bowl that not only set up a crucial score but also a record. Addison is the X-factor of the group and for good reason.  Before a knee injury, Addison averaged 14.1 yards per return, to go along with 890 total yards on offense.  When he returned from injury, he still managed a respectable 12.6 yards per return on punts and even managed to take one back to the house for a score. Addison figures to be fully-recovered from the injury and will be a healthy challenge for Norwood.

The lone specialist coming back will be the most important—kicker Brandon McManus, who will look to add onto a successful campaign in Denver.  The strong-legged kicker seemingly found his confidence with every kick he made last year.  This helped him to be the most constant source of points on an offense that sputtered throughout the year.

While the return game may not have a Dante Hall or even a Trindon Holliday, they should be more consistent. Expect Norwood to establish himself as the man at punt returner, unless someone like Addison comes along and sets the world on fire in the preseason. The loser of that battle may slide over to the kick return role, as it wouldn’t seem there is another viable option in house to handle the role. 

The biggest and best special teams battle of the summer will be at punter, between rookie seventh-rounder Riley Dixon and incumbent Britton Colquitt, followed by the duel at long snapper between Casey Krieter and Nathan Theus. It may not be the sexiest battle, but with a newly-minted ball control offense, it can’t be understated how important these jobs are.

Anytime a specialist like Dixon is drafted, it should be a cause for concern for the incumbent. In each of the last two seasons, the Broncos have brought in someone to push Colquitt for his job.  In both years, it still ended with Colquitt seeing the 53-man roster as the team’s starting punter.

Look for the most consistent punter to take the job, and this would seem to play into the strengths of Dixon, who is the better technician of the two. While Colquitt's performance did improve in the postseason, the drafting of Dixon should be a clear reminder that an early season falter may not be tolerated.

Plus, why pay the incumbent north of $3 million this season, when the rookie can be had for a fraction of that? 

To read the previous installments of "State of the Broncos", click HERE

Adam Uribes is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @auribes37.

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