Isaiah McKenzie has not played in a regular season game since his rookie season in 2017. He might be getting a shot at redemption at a critical time.
Brace yourselves, Denver Broncos fans — Isaiah McKenzie is going to get another shot.
According to Mike Klis, the Broncos’ promotion of McKenzie came after he was apparently pursued by the Buffalo Bills. The Broncos waved the Dikembe Mutombo finger at Buffalo and put him on their own active roster after waiving Chad Kelly on Wednesday.
There will be a lot of fans unhappy with the decision to bring McKenzie up from the practice squad, but the team has already shown a great deal of belief in him, even to a fault.
McKenzie fumbled six times in his rookie season, losing three on punts. He had more punts than he did 20-plus yard returns (four).
The Broncos continued to believe McKenzie could help the team as a punt returner despite his struggles, but he definitely cost the team in some critical moments and was one of a number of players on the team in 2017 who simply couldn’t hold onto the football or keep it out of the hands of the other team.
After another fumble at the end of a preseason game as a receiver in Chicago, many fans were ready for the team to be done with McKenzie, and they did end up cutting him at the time final rosters were put together.
But the Broncos brought McKenzie back shortly after rosters were finalized when they placed Su’a Cravens on injured reserve, and cut him again, later on, to put him on the practice squad.
He’s been working on the practice squad and working with Tom McMahon, who has completely rejuvenated the Broncos’ special teams unit. They were one of the worst units in the NFL last season under Brock Olivo, and this season have become one of the NFL’s best overall units.
One of the areas that has been improved slightly is the punt return game. I say only slightly improved because the Broncos have not had many big plays in that area. They are one of the best teams in the NFL offensively in terms of making big, explosive plays. They showed against Arizona they are capable of making big plays and scoring points defensively.
On special teams, they have even blocked a couple of kicks and made some huge plays in that regard.
One area they have not made any big plays is in the return game, and McKenzie is a big play threat. Pacman Jones was once a big play threat, but those days may very well be in the past.
While McKenzie has not proven himself to be trustworthy, the Broncos’ coaching staff feels like his development is at the point where they not only want to protect another team from coming in to sign him but potentially to give him a chance at redemption in the biggest game of the season.
We already saw signs of the progression he’s made as a punt returner over the course of the preseason, where he was sure-handed catching punts. He also showed off the big play ability the Broncos had hoped he could provide:
Again, McKenzie has not proven himself to be trustworthy in a regular season game. But the Broncos are going to be without DaeSean Hamilton this week as he recovers from a knee injury he suffered against the Cardinals, and Pacman is still working his way back from a hamstring injury as well.
McKenzie’s legs are fresh, and now he’s got a golden opportunity to prove he belongs on the Broncos’ active roster for good.
To McKenzie’s credit, he may very well be the fastest player on the Broncos, though Phillip Lindsay might have something to say about it. He also might have the most ridiculous feet on the team, and that’s saying something given Emmanuel Sanders has some of the quickest feet in the league.
McKenzie’s physical skills have never been in question, but can he hold onto the football?
The Broncos are banking on it. If McKenzie is active this week against the Chiefs — and he should be given the injury situations — he will have a chance to give the Broncos another boost in the big play department, or he might solidify his status as a practice squad player and might even have to get his second chance in the league elsewhere.
Again, to his credit, he holds the Broncos’ longest punt return since 2015 (a 44-yard return last year against the Eagles) and had a number of other big returns called back for penalties. He had some big returns in the preseason and looked much better catching the ball.
If he’s taken a step forward he could be a major asset on special teams for the Broncos.