<
>

Broncos will take a long look at returners in this draft

3h

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- While the Denver Broncos don’t want to make draft picks based solely on need at the expense of leaving higher-graded players on the draft board, they do have needs they hope they can fill next week.

One of those more pressing needs is the team’s return game. And while being a quality returner is a specialized skill, the Broncos' chief football decision-maker is not looking for a specialist to do it.

"I think the ideal situation is a guy that can be a core special-teams guy and can also play offensively or defensively as well as being a returner," executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said. "That is the ideal situation. To just have a roster spot that is eaten up by a returner is a little bit tough, even though we’ve done that the last couple of years. We’d rather have it the other way."

So those prospects who have enough on their resume to compete to play in the offense or defense as well as have the potential to be an impact returner, fit the profile of what the Broncos want. Especially at punt returner.

Omar Bolden, who has played both safety and cornerback with the Broncos, is expected to get the opportunity to be the kickoff returner. The Broncos used several players for the job through the first half of the 2014 season, usually wide receiver Andre Caldwell, with rather ho-hum results.

Bolden didn’t have a kickoff return in a game last season until Nov. 2 in New England and he wasn’t the first option for the job until Week 12. But in that limited look, Bolden made the most of his opportunities.

Of the four kickoff returns the Broncos had of at least 40 yards last season, Bolden had three of them. He also had the team's two longest kickoff returns of the season -- 77 and 76 yards -- coming in the Broncos’ last two games of the regular season.

But punt returner is a glaring need at the moment. In games the Broncos had at least one punt return (non-touchback, fair catch or punt out of bounds) in ‘14, they had fewer than 10 yards worth of punt returns six times, including their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

They finished tied for 20th in the NFL at 7.2 yards per punt return and were one of just four teams in the league that didn’t have a punt return longer than 22 yards for the season (Indianapolis, Chicago and Houston were the others).

It’s why players like Miami wide receiver Phillip Dorsett, Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett and Utah’s Kaelin Clay, who had four return touchdowns this past season (three on punt returns), will get heavy consideration. Dorsett, who had two consecutive seasons when he averaged over 20 yards a catch in the Hurricanes’ offense, and Lockett, who had six career touchdowns in the return game, would have a chance to earn playing time on offense more quickly.

But with 10 picks and limited options already on the roster, at punt returner especially, it’s likely a returner who can multi-task will be among the new arrivals.