For years, the Denver Broncos have been plagued by poor special teams under the supervision of STC Tom McMahon. Again in 2021, the team ranked near the bottom of every metric. They ranked 30th in special teams DVOA, down from 24th the year before. Diontae Spencer was the least effective kick-returner in the league, averaging a measly 17.1 yards per return on 17 returns, the lowest of any returner with at least 10 returns according to PFF. Spencer wasn’t much better in the punt game, averaging 7.9 YPR on 25 returns and muffed a couple chances in the process.
Luckily, for the sanity of Broncos fans everywhere… Tom McMahon is gone.
Dwayne Stukes spent the 2021 season helping the Los Angeles Rams lift the Lombardi trophy as an assistant special teams coach. That Rams unit ranked 4th in overall special teams DVOA and featured PFF highest graded punt returner, Brandon Powell, who amassed a league-leading 15.8 YPR on 15 punts, and 22.8 YPR on 13 kick-returns.
Dwayne Stukes is now the STC in Denver and looks to bring over some of the same success he found in Los Angeles, but who is the return-specialist he will entrust with the ball?
Insert rookie WR out of Samford, Montrell Washington.
WT: 181 lbs.
Position: WR/Return Specialist
Washington is simply electrifying in the return game, averaging 18.7 YPR on 14 punt returns with two touchdowns and 23.3 YPR on 32 kick returns with one touchdown in 2021 alone. On three separate occasions last season (W. Carolina, Florida, E. Tenn St.) he put up triple-digit return yards, especially dominating against Florida, where he totalled 321 all-purpose yards and scored three touchdowns.
Montrell offers little upside in the pass game. He possesses decent separation ability when playing out of the slot, but his size will limit him against the more physical DB’s in the NFL and he lacks elite speed to stress defenses vertically. From a frame standpoint, Washington isn’t quite at the NFL receiver level, coming in at 5’8 180 lbs. with 28” arms and only 9.3” hands he doesn’t provide a ton of margin for error when being targeted. His RAS score leaves a fair bit to be desired for a later round pick at a 4.34 (though that is tanked by the lack in size). His agility scores are worrisome and I question how his body will hold up at the next-level.
Washington’s play against Florida stood out to receiver coach Zach Azzanni and he made sure to point out the receiver during the pre draft process to Stukes who then pounded the table for him in the 5th round on draft night.
Montrell Washington highlights
Broncos new WR/RS Montrell Washington vs. Florida was a sight to behold pic.twitter.com/8l5PAJrcUo— Sayre Bedinger (@SayreBedinger) April 30, 2022
Fit on 2022 Broncos
Washington figures to be the day-one kick and punt returner who can hopefully end Denver’s depressing run at the position. Since 2015, Denver has scored one single touchdown in the return game, and that needs to change. Montrell scored three times as a returner in 2021 alone, and I’m hopeful he can be the guy to bring a spark to a unit that needs it.
As a receiver, I’m wary of using him as the ‘slot-insurance’ fans will likely expect him to be. This isn’t a guy you want taking a beating and I’m not sure he’s the best guy to do so in the first place. Denver features three high end receivers, and KJ Hamler will hopefully return to form and excel catching deep passes from Wilson. Washington will likely be the fifth receiver on the depth chart, unless they decide to keep six which I don’t expect, and will probably hear his name called on designed plays or packages once or twice a game. His role in the offense should be incredibly limited, if he’s utilized at all. This guy looks to be a major asset in the return-game, and I hope he’s kept almost exclusively at that role.
Washington says what sets him apart as a returner is he’s “fearless… just catch it and go.” And as Stukes ever so simply put it, “this kid has talent.”
He’s going to need both of these traits to find success as a return specialist and receiver at the next level. The learning curve from an FCS school to the NFL can’t be understated, and Washington will have little time to adapt to the NFL speed.
As we approach training camp and the preseason, hopefully we hear more about Washington catching the eyes of coaches and flashing throughout practices. It’s been far too long since Denver had a legitimate threat returning punts and kicks; Trindon Holliday’s final snap in Denver came at the end of the 2013 season, and the time has come for kickoffs to garner excitement for the fanbase and not dread. Hopefully, Montrell Washington represents that change and more.