The Denver Broncos have been fortunate to have Diontae Spencer over the past couple of years since Spencer was signed out of the CFL by the Pittsburgh Steelers and waived leading up to the 2019 regular season. With his big-time speed, Spencer has averaged 11 yards per punt return and nearly 24 yards per kickoff return on 72 returns in total.
Among full-time return specialists in the 2020 season, Spencer ranked second behind just New England Patriots receiver/return man Gunner Olszewski.
Spencer’s 15.8 yards per punt return in 2020 came on just 16 returns total, one of which was taken back 83 yards for a touchdown when the Denver Broncos put a pretty good whooping on the Carolina Panthers.
That play also just so happened to be the first career touchdown for Spencer, and frankly, it felt like a long time coming as Spencer had busted out a number of big returns in his time with the Broncos including a 60-yard kickoff return in 2019 and a 42-yard punt return in 2019.
Still, even as a Pro Bowl alternate, no one is exempt from competition, and Spencer is facing some pretty stiff competition in 2021.
Dating back to his time in the CFL, there may not be an active NFL player with more experience returning the football than Diontae Spencer. That alone has made him worth the Denver Broncos keeping, a lot of the time, seven receivers active on the 53-man roster.
You have kickers and punters and long snappers taking up 53-man roster spots, why not return specialists?
The fact is, you can only have so many dedicated roster spots to guys who touch the ball twice a game in a given season, which is essentially what transpired with Spencer last year.
The touchdown was hopefully a sign of things to come, but he’s now going to have to fend off former Nebraska Cornhuskers All-American punt returner De’Mornay Pierson-El, who impressed the Broncos at a minicamp tryout and won a roster spot.
In his freshman year at Nebraska, Pierson-El took three punts back for touchdowns and scored another four touchdowns as a receiver. He finished with 11 touchdowns as a receiver among 100 receptions total, as well as scoring three more touchdowns on 74 punt returns.
Since his days at Nebraska, he’s bounced around between the Washington Football Team, Montreal Alouettes (CFL), Salt Lake Stallions (AAF), Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Battlehawks (XFL), Las Vegas Raiders, and now the Denver Broncos.
Obviously, Pierson-El is hoping this is the spot that sticks. The Denver Broncos have been quite successful with players who played in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football in 2019, including signing Pierson-El’s Salt Lake City teammate Mike Purcell in 2019 before getting him re-signed to a multi-year deal.
Although he’s only appeared in preseason games for the Raiders, Pierson-El has obviously been rather resilient and knows he can play at the highest level.
He will get an opportunity in 2021 that was not afforded to players like him in 2021 when there were no preseason games. Say what you will about preseason NFL football as far as the overall product the league puts out, but the preseason is vital for players like Pierson-El who can prove in game situations that they can win jobs for NFL teams as return specialists.
Not only that, but Diontae Spencer really has yet to establish himself as an offensive weapon for the Denver Broncos. Perhaps Pierson-El can match up with him as a return man and provide more offensively.
Time will tell, but it’s fascinating to see the Denver Broncos bring in some more competition there in the form of Pierson-El, a guy who had so much success with it in his early college years.