Denver Broncos: Is Diontae Spencer a necessary piece?

Broncos return specialist Diontae Spencer. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Broncos return specialist Diontae Spencer. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

Denver Broncos return ace Diontae Spencer will be entering his second year with the team.

As teams pared down their rosters to get to the league-mandated 53-player limit, the Pittsburgh Steelers decided to move on from Diontae Spencer, a player they signed following the conclusion of their 2018 season.

The Broncos swooped in and snagged Spencer off waivers, hoping to inject some new talent into the kick return game. Spencer is a wide receiver but is used almost exclusively as a return man.

Looking at Spencer’s numbers from last season, he returned 26 punts for 208 yards (an 8.0- average) and had the opportunity to return 15 kickoffs for 436 yards (a 29.1-yard average). That kick return average is solid, but with only 15 returns, there isn’t much to determine how good of a return man he actually is.

As a receiver, he caught six passes for 31 yards.

Many years ago, these return specialists had a role on a roster, but that was mostly because they chipped in at other areas, whether it be wide receiver, running back or defensive back. Looking back at the best kick returners in NFL history, you’ll see that this argument stands up.

Desmond Howard had one of the most memorable plays in Super Bowl history when he returned a kickoff for a touchdown to help the Green Bay Packers win Super Bowl XXXI, but he also made things happen as a wide receiver.

Darren Sproles could return kicks, but he was the ultimate chess piece in his stints with the Los Angeles Chargers, New Orleans Saints and Philadelphia Eagles.

Dante Hall was a true “X-Factor” for the Kansas City Chiefs and though he was most dangerous as a returner, he was dangerous with the ball in his hands in general.

Devin Hester might be the best return man in history, but he also made plays at wide receiver. The league’s all-time leader in return yardage, Brian Mitchell, also had nearly 2,000 career rushing yards.

Even Josh Cribbs was good for a big play on offense here and there.

Spencer is none of these guys and there’s good reason to believe he’s not ever going to be. An undrafted player out of McNeese State in 2014, Spencer signed with the St. Louis Rams but was waived before preseason games even started.

He then spent four years in the CFL where he became an All-Star before joining the Steelers. He has found a home in Denver, but is he a lock to make the team’s roster this year? Some feel that he is definitely in the team’s future plans.

Should he be though?

He did have some big returns last season, including one for 60 yards, but can he help the team in other areas? If not, he ties up a precious roster spot.

These days, most teams are just going to pound the kickoff out of the end zone and not give the return man a chance to bring it out. Last year, Spencer touched the ball a total of 47 times. How much of an impact can a guy have like that?

I am not advocating for the Broncos to move on from Spencer, but to consider him a “lock” to make the roster is a bit ridiculous if he can’t be an asset as a wide receiver. Could he be an asset there? Possibly, but there is no evidence right now to suggest he would be.

If a player looking to earn a roster spot at wide receiver such as Juwann Winfree or Tyrie Cleveland has a big summer, I would be inclined to keep either of them over Spencer.

Though K.J. Hamler was a high draft pick and thus, the Broncos may not want to have him returning kicks, it’s something he can do.

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If Spencer can show that he could be used creatively and effectively on offense, then he should absolutely make the team. If he can’t, he’s expendable and is far from a lock to make the roster.