Isaiah McKenzie’s punt return job gone for the rest of 2017
Denver Broncos rookie fifth round pick Isaiah McKenzie had big expectations coming into 2017, but has so far been unable to hang onto the football…
The Denver Broncos aren’t giving up completely on rookie Isaiah McKenzie, a fifth round pick out of Georgia, but they are going in a different direction for the rest of the 2017 season at punt returner.
Jordan Taylor will resume the punt return position after McKenzie didn’t struggle catching punts against the Raiders, but fumbled a ball that was recovered in the end zone for a safety.
McKenzie fielded a punt he probably shouldn’t have, and in his attempt to make a play, got careless with the football and had it stripped from him.
Head coach Vance Joseph addressed the status of McKenzie, among many other things, at his Monday press conference:
"“He is our punt returner. You want to try to find a way to give the team a spark. With the ball in his hand, he’s a special returner. Obviously, he’s had trouble catching the ball and taking care of the football. I thought, personally, two weeks would help him overcome that. That wasn’t so. He needs more time. I’m not giving up on Isaiah. He was drafted to be our punt returner. He’s averaged over 10 yards a punt return when he secured the football. I’m not down on him, but he’s a young player. You watch the guy yesterday—I was telling Pat (Exec. VP of Public and Community Relations Patrick Smyth) this story this morning about No. 19 (Miami WR Jakeem Grant) for the Dolphins—very similar player. He has a very similar story. Last season in Miami, we sat him down from Week 8 until the end of the season because he couldn’t secure the ball. You watch him yesterday, that’s a really confident returner. We hope that happens with Isaiah. But, right now, we can’t afford to chance the ball being on the ground. We’re going to sit him back down again and let [WR] Jordan Taylor do it the rest of the season.” Vance Joseph (quotes via Broncos PR)"
The Broncos’ loyalty to the rapid development of McKenzie may have been one of the biggest daggers of this season. I guess as a fan, it’s hard to know when ‘enough is enough’ for a player fumbling or losing the ball on punt returns. To me, it would have been three strikes, you’re out, regardless of who recovered the fumbles.
McKenzie’s six fumbles on punt returns this season are an unbelievably high amount, and when you consider the fact that he was benched for a few games and still had that many, the number is even more eye-opening.
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The Broncos and their fans had hoped McKenzie would be closer to six punt return touchdown than fumbles on punts, but here we are…
McKenzie will again have to prove this coming offseason that he can be that confident returner Joseph speaks of. The Broncos drafted him in the fifth round with pretty high hopes for a player selected that low, but it isn’t unfair to expect significant special teams involvement from a player drafted there.
Special teams coordinator Brock Olivo stated over the offseason that McKenzie was one of the best ‘catchers’ of punts this team had scouted, and that was a big reason why he was brought in. Add in the fact that he’s capable of breaking games open with his speed and quickness after catching the punts, and you have a recipe for great success in the return game.
It’s unfortunate it hasn’t worked out this year for McKenzie, but it wouldn’t be shocking to see him as one of the Broncos’ biggest bounce-back players next year.