The Denver Broncos somewhat surprisingly made a significant roster move on Saturday, letting go of punt returner Isaiah Burse in favor of kicker Brandon McManus. McManus will handle kickoff duties but the waiving of Burse leaves the Broncos with a major question mark at the punt returner position.
That question was answered in the form of the team’s official depth chart, which updated on Saturday reflects McManus taking over as kick returner and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders taking over as the top punt returner, followed by Wes Welker.
The Broncos don’t have to stick to that by any means, but Sanders is the clear best option on the roster at this point. The Broncos had Welker try it out a couple of times last season, but he muffed punts and wasn’t very good at it. They tried Eric Decker, who had some explosive returns but also wasn’t a reliable option.
Sanders hasn’t returned a ton of punts in his NFL career, but he is capable and gives the Broncos a chance to be explosive in that area of the game where Burse would come in and simply catch the ball, which he was good at. The Broncos haven’t had anyone else return punts this year, and fans are a little worried and upset about Sanders taking that area over.
The thought is, you don’t want to risk Sanders getting injured on a punt return with how valuable he is to the offense. That being said, you don’t really ever see guys like Randall Cobb, Antonio Brown, or Julian Edelman complaining about returning punts. They provide their team a major weapon in that area of the game, and every play these guys are involved in presents injury risk. If you don’t want Sanders to get injured, the only way to ensure that is to have him not play.
I get it though, increased snaps, increased reps on the field equals increased odds of getting hit in the wrong spot, or coming down on something wrong, or whatever the case may be. That’s no question. However, the Broncos need to shore up their special teams and they felt the best way to do that was to bring McManus up from the practice squad and use a veteran receiver as the punt returner.
We’ll see how it all works out on Sunday. Who knows? Fans might be pleasantly surprised having Sanders’ explosive speed back there.