Film Room: Understanding What Isaiah McKenzie Brings To The Denver Broncos Offense

When Vance Joseph was hired by the Denver Broncos, he made it a priority to add some “juice” to the offense. That’s exactly what the Broncos were hoping to find in rookie wideout Isaiah McKenzie. Coming out of college, McKenzie has been compared physically to two guys — Atlanta’s Taylor Gabriel and Los Angeles’ Tavon Austin.

All three came out of college as quick-twitch shorter wide receivers who were dangerous with the ball in their hands. The Broncos are hoping they have, at the very least, a mixture of the two in Isaiah McKenzie.

Following Tuesday’s mini-camp practice, Vance Joseph was yet again asked about the young flashing receiver.… “He is explosive,” Joseph said. “He is fast and he plays fast all the time. He can do a lot of things for us in terms of punt returning, playing some halfback and being the slot guy. He’s a smart guy and he’s very competitive. He’s a guy that should help us in the fall.”

If we look at Tavon Austin’s career usage, it could give us a look into how Denver could and should deploy it’s fastest draft pick. 75 of Austin’s 181 career receptions have been secured behind the line of scrimmage (tied for second in the NFL since being drafted). He’s also carried the ball 125 times, which is the most among wide receivers during that time, as well as 146 punt returns.

As Coach Joseph mentioned, McKenzie is a versatile player and they’ve already toyed with getting packages in the game-plan for McKenzie.

“He’s a guy that we’re going to use obviously in the slot and in the return game, but also maybe in the backfield a little bit,” Joseph said. “He has a skill-set that we could use him in a lot of places. He’s exciting. He’s a smart guy. He’s a tough guy. So we’re excited about him.”

Let’s take a look at a couple of plays from his college days that showcase McKenzie’s blazing speed and short area quickness to understand how the Broncos can use him.

Play 1

McKenzie is no stranger to catching the ball in space or carrying it from behind the line of scrimmage. As shown in the following play, the Georgia Bulldogs line up with one running back and two tight ends, also called 12-personnel (with two TEs on the field the team can run the ball behind seven in-line blockers).

The TE lined up at fullback comes up next to the left tackle and the other TE motions across the backfield and sets next to the other TE. Meanwhile, McKenzie bursts horizontally down the line of scrimmage. At the snap, McKenzie is handed the ball with now two TEs and a WR blocking for him downfield.

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Analysis: The play was designed to get McKenzie the ball in space with blockers in front of him. McKenzie goes on to score on an easy and explosive 23-yard run.

Play 2

In this next play, the Bulldogs are once again in 12-personnel — 1 RB and 2 TE — only McKenzie is lined up on the strongside of the formation (where the majority of the blockers are located). The TE closest to the LT blocks as if the RB his coming to his outside shoulder, while the other TE is now running behind the line of scrimmage. The QB fakes the hand off and then gives the ball to McKenzie, who now has a TE running full speed in front of him and a WR blocking as well.

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Analysis: McKenzie’s pure speed and vision are phenomenal. You can see why Denver took a liking to him.

As a pure WR talent, McKenzie is only hampered by his size. He won’t ever be able to go over the top and beat cornerbacks consistently on jump balls, and that would lower his chances at playing outside significantly.

He’s also not a very good blocking option, due to his size. That pushes him to be the very elusive slot receiver in the Broncos offense. One thing McKenzie can do without question is return punts.

No player in Georgia history has had more kick and punt returns for a touchdown than did Isaiah McKenzie. When asked if McKenzie could be a Tyreek Hill type of player, special teams coordinator Brock Olivo, who coached Hill in Kansas City, didn’t want to set the bar too high while remaining optimistic.

“That’s tough to say,” Olivo said. “I mean, Tyreek had a hell of a year. That’s amazing what he did last year. We’re hoping to get something like that out of McKenzie as far as his returnability and his slot receiving skills and his backfield skills. Maybe. We’ll see.”

In order to get that kind of special teams return ability on the active game day roster, new offensive coordinator Mike McCoy will have to get creative and put together some packages for McKenzie.

With Demaryius Thomas, and Emmanuel Sanders as receivers 1a and 1b, respectively, justifying yet another slot receiver after third-rounder Carlos Henderson and incumbents Bennie Fowler and Jordan Taylor, will be difficult.

McKenzie needs to continue to impress in camp — not only as a return specialist but as a new weapon in this Broncos offense.

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Colby Valdez is an Analyst for Mile High Huddle. You can find him on Twitter @colby_valdez.

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