Opportunity knocks for Broncos rookie Isaiah McKenzie

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- As the Denver Broncos crunched the numbers on rookie wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie, a couple trumped the rest.

Certainly the fact McKenzie measured in at just 5-foot-7ΒΌ inches tall at the scouting combine mattered. As did the fact that he weighed in at 173 pounds.

That isn't the typical profile of an NFL player in waiting, but McKenzie had a couple of other numbers that tipped the scales in his favor. And they're why McKenzie has an opportunity to be an impact rookie for the Broncos.

“Speed, agility and everything in small-man nature, I can do a lot in the return game," McKenzie said this past week. “If they want me to block, play gunner or run the ball, I'm going to do it. I'm doing everything possible on special teams to make the team better."

McKenzie clocked a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the combine, and he had six return touchdowns in his career at Georgia (five punt returns and one kickoff return). For the Broncos, those totals weren't just worth a second look, they were flashing lights on the football marquee. An impact returner was one of the team’s most glaring needs entering the draft.

So, McKenzie, a fifth-round pick, has arrived big on potential with a waiting opportunity. The Broncos haven't had a punt return longer than 25 yards in two of the last three seasons or kickoff return for a touchdown since 2013. They have left piles of field position unaccounted for simply because they didn't have a returner who could consistently move the ball.

“I really want to show them that I can be a receiver -- a slot guy, jet sweep guy," McKenzie said. “(I want to) help the team win in any way possible -- offense, special teams -- anything I can do, I want to do."

McKenzie is a fast guy who keeps that speed with all of the football gear on, running through high-traffic areas. Some players are sprinters in workouts but don’t play nearly that fast with the ball in their hands, while some players don’t time well in workouts yet consistently outrun other players in games.

McKenzie showed the speed the Broncos want -- and need -- on offense and in the return game in college. He displayed it again in a brief rookies-only workout Saturday.

“Sometimes when you have a smaller receiver, their ball skills suffer," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. “But he’s got big man ball skills."

While McKenzie’s size was a bit of a red flag for some scouts, Broncos executive vice president of football operations/general manager John Elway said he sees someone who plays beyond those measurements at Georgia. And Elway believes McKenzie’s work as a runner, receiver and a returner could translate in the NFL.

"We think that he can do a lot," Elway said as the draft concluded. “He can carry the ball. He'll probably be a fifth wideout that can do a lot of things on the offensive side, so that's a luxury to have … But also, when you have only 46 spots on Sunday, they're valuable. To be able to have a guy that can do as many things as he can do with that speed was very valuable to us."

The Broncos have embraced optimism before in their search for a consistent, reliable impact player in the return game over the last three seasons. But that has eroded into a safety-first approach where the Broncos trotted out returners who they believed would catch kickoffs or punts without the threat of a fumble.

Add it all together and it’s why McKenzie may not be the most heralded player in the Broncos’ rookie class, but he could quickly carve out an important niche.

“I just have to come and do my best job," McKenzie said. “Play special teams, play offense and take advantage of every opportunity they give me. I'm just worried about getting on the field and doing my job the best that I can."