Two underrated Broncos players could be secret weapons with new NFL rule

The NFL has resurrected a key play in 2024
Denver Broncos
Denver Broncos / Justin Edmonds/GettyImages

The NFL has made a massive change for the 2024 season that is going to catch a lot of fans off-guard when they finally see it in action. For the better part of the last two decades, the NFL has been doing everything within its power to eliminate kickoff returns from the game because of how dangerous it is to have players flying at each other going upwards of 20-23 miles per hour.

There's no question that it's been one of the most dangerous plays in the game, but eliminating it from football altogether has always felt like a mistake. There is an alternative the NFL is adopting this year, and it stands to benefit a handful of Denver Broncos players greatly.

Broncos head coach Sean Payton said that "significant" is a modest word for just how big of a change this is going to be for the league in 2024. Last season, Green Bay Packers Pro Bowl return specialist Keisean Nixon led the league with 30 kickoff returns. Only two players in the entire league had more than 20 returns in 2023. Jets head coach Robert Saleh said recently that he expects there to be upwards of 100 return opportunities per team in 2024.

With that in mind, it's not just Pro Bowl return man Marvin Mims Jr. who stands to benefit from the NFL's latest change. Two players on the Broncos' roster who are outstanding kickoff returners -- even with the rules not in their favor -- are wide receiver Jalen Virgil and cornerback Tremon Smith.

In his final two seasons at Appalachian State, Jalen Virgil averaged a kickoff return touchdown once every 11 returns.

Virgil has outstanding speed and skills in the return game with the field vision to be extremely effective with the new kickoff return rules in place, and he's been looking explosive in the footage we've seen from Broncos OTAs coming back from an injury he suffered last year in the preseason.

Tremon Smith, likewise, has long been an outstanding kickoff return specialist. He once provided the Houston Texans with their first return touchdown in over 12 years:

Back in his rookie year with the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith got his most extensive work as a return man and had 886 kickoff return yards with a 97-yard return that nearly went the distance.

The Broncos have a plethora of options at the return spots. Seventh-round pick Devaughn Vele also got extensive work as a punt returner a couple of years ago at Utah, and was pretty good at it.

But having players like Marvin Mims, Jalen Virgil, and Tremon Smith? The Broncos have three viable Pro Bowl candidates in the return game with the NFL now creating a rule that favors their skills. They were able to excel in that way when it was hard to return kicks. Now that the league has resurrected the value of the return man, these guys all stand to benefit in a big way.