Name: Isaiah McKenzie
Height: 5'7" Weight: 173lbs
Age: 22 Experience: Rookie
The Denver Broncos put a focus on Special Teams this offseason. It all started when they hired former Kansas City Chiefs assistant Special Teams coach Brock Olivo to be their Special Teams coach. He’s a big personality and coming from one of the better Special Teams in the league, so the Broncos have high hopes for him. That focus continued in a big way during the 2017 NFL Draft. The Broncos drafted three players who are all capable of being big-time returners in the NFL. One of those picks was former Georgia Bulldog wide receiver/returner Isaiah McKenzie who the Broncos selected in the fifth round(pick 172) in the 2017 NFL Draft.
McKenzie played three seasons at Georgia and was a productive player. During his three-year career, he totaled 60 receptions for 823 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also had 37 rushing attempts for 329 yards and 4 touchdowns during his career at Georgia. This past season he totaled 44 receptions for 633 yards and 7 touchdowns. He also had 19 rushing attempts for 134 yards and 2 touchdowns.
Now while McKenzie was productive on the offensive side of the ball, his bread and butter was in the return game. He had 59 punt returns for 692 yards and 5 punt return touchdowns during his career. He also had 16 career kick returns for 1 touchdowns, but only had 5 total kick returns during his final two seasons at Georgia. So like I said, his punt return skills is his bread and butter.
Isaiah McKenzie is gonna be a special weapon as a PR. I'd be surprised if he doesn't run at least one back this yr.— Cameron Wolfe (@CameronWolfe) June 13, 2017
When asked about what he can bring to the team, McKenzie mentioned that he “loves Special Teams and returning the ball”.
“I feel like I can make an immediate impact. I love special teams. I love returning the ball. I feel like I can come in and catch punts, kicks, and do the best things I can do. On the offensive side of the ball, I can play wide receiver, a little bit of slot and a little bit of running back. I feel like I can make an immediate impact.”
The Broncos hope McKenzie can make an immediate impact for them in the return game. If all goes as planned this summer, McKenzie figures to make the roster and be the Broncos punt returner week one, but first McKenzie needs to adjust to the NFL.
Special Teams coach Brock Olivo was asked about McKenzie’s adjustment and he believes the explosive rookie “will be just fine”.
“The first thing is to get him comfortable back there catching the football. He’s a natural catcher. When he got to us, he was a good catcher. As you guys know, it’s a little bit different here in the NFL. He’s going to have gunners in his face at times, PPs (punt protectors) in his face at times, so we have to get him comfortable back there and get him to trust the system. He has to trust that it’s going to be there. The thing that I love about Isaiah is that he’s got all the confidence in the world in himself. I think he’s going to be just fine.”
Olivo isn’t the only one talking up McKenzie. Broncos All-Pro edge rusher Von Miller said that McKenzie is “what the Broncos have been missing”.
Von Miller says 'dynamic' ex-UGA standout Isaiah McKenzie is what Broncos have been missing https://t.co/J1QgDApqGk— Sandra Golden (@sportsandra) June 26, 2017
Miller was heaping praise on the explosive rookie and called him a dynamic player who is going to be able to make a lot of great plays”.
“We have a lot of rookies that are going to help us win games,” Miller said. “[Punt returner/receiver] Isaiah [McKenzie] is going to be able to make a lot of great plays. It’s what we’ve been missing, a big-time return man. He’s dynamic. The rookies really fit into the weaknesses we had before. I feel really good about it.”
McKenzie needs to do his part this summer to make sure he makes the team since he’s not exactly a lock to make the roster. With that said, I believe McKenzie will be a dynamic playmaker for the Broncos this season like Von Miller believes.
This dude can absolutely fly. He’ll be a weapon on special teams and on offense for the Broncos.
He has 4.42 speed and his explosiveness and elusiveness are evident on tape. If he gets into space, good luck on catching him.
As Vance Joseph stated earlier this spring, they plan on using McKenzie on Special Teams of course, but also on the offensive side of the ball.
"He’s a guy that we’re going to use obviously in the slot and in the return game, but also maybe in the backfield a little bit. He has a skill set that we could use him in a lot of places. He’s exciting. He’s a smart guy. He’s a tough guy. So we’re excited about him."
Offensive Coordinator Mike McCoy will be drawing up some special packages and plays for the explosive rookie. I expect them to use him a lot like the Chiefs used Tyreek Hill last season. Will McKenzie have the same sort of impact? That remains to be seen, but the roles should be similar.
The Broncos are trying to get the ball into the hands of McKenzie because he was a touchdown machine for Georgia. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein had this interesting stat on McKenzie in his player profile of him.
“Specialized in hitting big plays. Scored a touchdown every seventh time he touched the football on offense this season and averaged 11.9 yards per offensive touch over three years at Georgia.”
If he was scoring at the type of rate, you find ways to get the ball into his hands.
Traded up to take WR Isaiah McKenzie from Georgia in the 5th. An electric returner & a productive offensive player. Gives us a dual threat.— John Elway (@johnelway) April 29, 2017
McKenzie told reporters that he is anxious to show everyone that he’s just not a returner and that he can contribute on the offensive side of the ball.
“I really want to show them that I can be a receiver—a slot guy, jet sweep guy. [I want to] help the team win in any way possible: offense, special teams—anything I can do, I want to do.”
The Broncos hope he can become a dangerous dual threat option for them this upcoming season.
His height/weight and smallish stature is always a concern when it comes to playing in the NFL game. The players are bigger, stronger and faster and McKenzie is going to have to adjust to that. He’s going to take his big hits, but he has to try to avoid those and save his body from these hits.
Another issue with being that small is the added injury risk. These big hits(if they happen) will take a toll on the body. So that’s another concern I have with McKenzie.
His fumbling issues are another issue to watch with McKenzie. He had 12 total fumbles during his three years at Georgia, but only lost 5 of them. That is something he needs to clean up. If you’re a returner who fumbles, you will not last long in this league.
Finally, he’s a bit of a limited receiver. He’s a bit of a body catcher, doesn’t run great routes, and lacks the length to contribute much down the field. He’ll be a jet sweep, screen, and slant guy in the NFL it seems.
Combine workout results:
40 time: 4.42 seconds
Bench Press: 11 reps
Vertical Jump: 36 inches
Broad Jump: 123.0 inches
3 Cone Drill: 6.64 seconds(Top performer at his positional group)
20 Yard Shuttle: 4.15 seconds
Isaiah McKenzie highlights:
Isaiah McKenzie’s roster status:
I think McKenzie’s odds of making the team are good, but if he struggles with fumbles or receiving the punts, he may be on the outside looking in. Ultimately I think he makes the team and is the Broncos starting punt returner in 2016.
His exact role and usage on the offensive side of the ball remain to be seen, but I think we’ll see him out there at least a few times a game. I expect to see a few jet sweeps and fakes off the sweep at least a few times a game, especially if Lynch wins the starting job.