Alrighty, it’s time to have some real fun now, that’s right, we’re looking at the special teamers on the Broncos next season! This is the final part of the extremely early projection series. I expect everyone to disagree with me in some respects on just about every position I have here. There are just so many ways you can go at the positions. Plus, who knows who’s in at kicker or punter? The spots are as wide open as the Great Midwestern Plains!
"I definitely feel like I can come in and be that guy to come in and make plays on special teams, have teams scared to kick the ball to us. I definitely look forward to doing that and having that impact.''
- Eddie Royal
Where’s your explanation for the punt return position? You didn’t justify your opinion at all, or name a particular starter! No, I did not forget to write up a justification for next season’s starting punt returner. How silly you are for thinking that. I believe you can infer from the video who will start and why.
Eddie Royal excelled in the kicking game at Virginia Tech, and remember, at Va Tech they play Beamer Ball. You have to be a talented returner in order to captain the return man ship on a team that feeds off of special teams momentum. Denver let Domenik Hixon go, a bit of a mistake to say the least. Denver hasn’t finished in the top ten in kickoff or punt returns since 2003. The Broncos don’t want to keep bouncing around the league finding returners to plug-in. It’s time for a kicking revolution! “You say you want a revolution?” Well, we all “know it’s gonna be…all right.” I’ll stop clogging this part of the breakdown with punt return talk and say that Royal also has a chance to take over a kickoff return position, barring he doesn’t win over the slot receiver job by the start of the season. The Broncos targeted him, then drafted him to solve a particular problem at a particular special teams position.
Who else will return kicks? Andre Hall and Selvin Young are the recent holdovers from last season. You have to ask yourself: who’s more electrifying? I honestly don’t know. Then you look at what the Broncos did this off-season. Samie Parker and even UFA Anthony Alridge (if he makes the team) could factor into a kick return battle. Don’t forget Mike Bell either! Why does Denver make this so hard on us as fans to figure out?
Parker’s “I ran track in college at Oregon” speed is tempting…
Let’s break down the stats of the guys we know.
Good old Mike Bell averaged 19.4 yards on five kick returns in 2006, but he was out of a job the following season. Unfortunately, something tells me the speed coming in and the changing times will make it hard for Bell to get a spot here.
Andre Hall returned 19 kicks for an average of 25 yards last season, but could never break the big one. Only four of his returns went for less than twenty yards, so we’ll call Hall’s performance average and still respectable.
Selvin Young, on the other hand, only returned three kicks for an 18.7 yard average. Either teams like to kick to Hall, or Andre was the big man on campus as a kick returner last year. Considering Hall’s average performance as a top dog, I’d say he gets the edge here.
You never know how certain players will perform during the off-season. Speed is an unknown quantity in new players. Samie Parker never got a chance to return in KC, and most people hypothesize that he’d be decent. The buzz amongst the fans about Alridge has forced me to rethink my stance. Alridge is definitely explosive and could be a high value UFA addition with his speed and versatility. One of the players mentioned above in the competition for second fiddle will not make the roster. Denver can only carry so many players, and this second position will prove a chance to make the roster.
Again, I have to give the spot to the known entity, how ever much of an “entity” it may be. At this point, I’d like to have at least one returner with some experience. As off-season practices move along, however, some of the new guys could rock my world. The WR and RB depth chart is currently very crowded. Denver will probably only be able to keep four running backs at the most, and that’ll also leave some “fullbacks” out in the cold.
Final Returner Analysis:
Jay Cutler had a really fantastic time starting out with absolutely wonderful field position on his drives last year…
Well, we can all dream.
The punt returner is going to be one of the ones most accountable for starting field position. Of course, the returner needs a good core group of blockers, but the more instincts the guy has, the more he’ll help his buddies on offense. Last season, Denver started drives with an average line of scrimmage of 28.1, among the bottom dwellers in the league to say the least (ranked 29th to be exact). Find a successful return man and you can instantly help turn that around. Eddie Royal certainly has the right attitude, and youthful energy may be what this team needs.
Furthermore, I hope I didn’t bore you with my long-winded analysis of the kick return position. I feel Royal gets a chance there, but almost anyone could get an opportunity at the other spot. This position could be much more important than at first glance, because it could determine whether Mike Bell, Andre Hall, and/or others have a team next season. Hall had the brunt of the experience last season, so I say why not give him a chance. The unknown quantity here is off-season improvement and impressions, and that’s why projecting the kick returners this early is certainly hard. With the addition of rookies Hillis and Torain at already crowded positions, as well as free agents like Parker, some players better not get too comfortable in Denver just yet. Henry, Torain, Hall, Young, Bell, Hillis, and Sapp can’t all have a spot…right? Want to make the team? Blow the coaches away in special teams.
More Royal - Click "College Video 1" under "Highlight Videos"
(Want some more light reading for a rainy day? Check out this article on the importance of field position.)
That dependable force at the end of football games has disappeared in Denver. Jason Elam’s eyes have seen many game winners slink through the uprights, but he will not view anymore in the comforts of a Denver uniform. The Broncos have talked to Mike Vanderjadgt and John Carney and gauged possible costs. For now, it’s the undrafted free agent show, starring…
Matt Prater is the guy in Denver. That’s easy enough to say, because he was the only guy after Elam left. However, in two games played for Atlanta, Prater made one of four attempts, including a miss from 20-29 yards. His only make came from the 40-49 yard range. What I have seen of Prater hasn’t been pretty. Matt choked at UCF in the Hawaii Bowl against Nevada when he missed an extra point. I’m nervous about the kicker position, and I don’t know if I necessarily want someone like this, even if this miss was a while ago in college.
The guy doesn’t strike me as all that confident…
Garrett Hartley had 60 kickoffs find the end zone and converted on 32-of-35 total field goals in his junior and senior years combined. It looks like Harley could possibly kick field goals and kick-off. He seems to be able to kick-off well and is extremely laid back in terms of personality. Even in high school, Hartley posted 86% touchbacks. I know the kickers don’t have a real history of doing the kick-offs in Denver, but you never know. I posted the following video before in my breakdown of the UFAs, but this interview may help you contrast the personalities of Prater and Hartley in college interviews, if there’s any contrasting to be done. Hartley seems confident and believes in himself.
I’m going to actually go out on a limb here and say Hartley can win the battle, even though all signs point to Prater. I’m not extremely crazy about either of these two guys right now, but I may be in the minority when I project this. It’s obviously all about who has the better summer. Of course, everything changes if the Broncos decide to sign a veteran free agent. I’d personally look into it if signing a vet didn’t involve going with a clashing personality like Vanderjadgt’s.
Of course, it’s understandable that whoever starts out at kicker next season might not be as dependable as Elam was: that’s a given. However, Denver just needs a guy who can make field goals. It’s not much more than that.
Man, I never thought anyone could write so much about special teams! How about the punter position? A punter’s job doesn’t change much from college to the pros. There’s no difference in hash marks to worry about, and there’s no size difference in players you have to stress over at the position. In fact, you typically get better snaps in the NFL as a punter.
While I begrudgingly brought myself to make a decision at the kicker spot, I’m unable to do so here.
When I went to look at Danny Baugher, I found the following report . Baugher has seen waive after waive on NFL practice squads, courtesy of Cincinnati and New England. As a member of the Rhein Fire in 2007 (oh boy, NFL Europe!) Baugher downed sixteen of forty-eight punts inside the twenty, and averaged 43.2 yards per punt.
Sam Paulescu punted five times in 2007 for an average of 44.2 per punt and a long of fifty-one. Paulescu has seen “the waive” once himself, courtesy of the Dallas Cowboys. Thus far, he’s the only one with NFL experience as a punter.
New addition Brett Kern averaged 42.3 yards per punt in a four-year career at Toledo. Some reports have implied Kern’s possible inability to kick-off in the pros. However, Kern apparently is cool under pressure and does well dropping punts inside the twenty. Last season Kern punted a long of 66 and was second in the country in average yards per punt (46.5). Denver has brought in a lot of versatile players of late, and Kern's no different. The guy was 5-6 passing over four years, so he knows how to run a fake punt. Brett is improving and apparently has what’s called “upside,” only breaking out as a true pro prospect recently. He’ll give it his all in an attempt not to join the ranks of his competitors as a player that has been waived by an NFL franchise.
I personally don’t see Baugher winning the job, but each of the three candidates has as good a chance as anyone. Paulescu could have a head start, because he’s played before, but I can’t find anyone to hand a clear-cut advantage to at the moment. Judging punters based on statistics and news is difficult, so I will leave this spot up to the competition. May the best man win!
Special teams are where most of the guys on the cusp are going to make the team. Some players finish their careers known particularly as an excellent special teamers, never progressing to the starting line-up for too long: take former Eagle Ike Reese for example. The ST unit is important, and could be the difference between a spot on an NFL team and a spot on the couch waiting for a call.
The special teamers are going to be more important than ever for the Broncos this season. Unknown quantities permeate the depth chart, but the special teams unit is a quantity that’s not discussed as much as the other unknowns on the roster. It’ll be a real battle this off-season.
I also thought I’d have a little fun with the videos, because special teams are just that special.
Finally, because I like to get you readers involved, I'll throw a little poll out there. I don't expect anyone to have really delved into the kicking game issue right now, but we'll see what kicking tandem will be the random MHR favorite come mini-camp time. Hopefully the post gave you some decent background information.