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Broncos Position Breakdown: Specialists

Posted Apr 18, 2013

Andrew Mason writes that the Broncos are close to claiming the league's best special-teams unit.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- There's no position group less likely to be the target of a draft pick this year than special teams.

Oh, the Broncos will surely find multiple players who will work on the coverage and blocking teams for punts, kickoffs and returns, but they will be asked to complement the leaders already on hand -- particularly key veterans like Wesley Woodyard and the recently re-signed David Bruton.

But at the specialists of the third phase, the Broncos appear to be in solid shape overall.

The last of the burning questions around the unit was answered by waiver pickup Trindon Holliday last year, who overcame a bout of the bobbles to become the league's most explosive returner; including the playoffs, he scored four times -- two on kickoffs; two on punts -- in 12 games.

That's phenomenal production, especially given that the Broncos had just eight return touchdowns in the previous 10 seasons combined. Even if Holliday doesn't contribute a snap on offense and even if his fumble ratio -- one every 9.6 returns, including playoffs -- remains the same, he will be valuable because of his absurd production rate.

For the Broncos, he scored once every 12 total returns and averaged 12.5 yards per punt return and 36.9 yards per kickoff return (including playoffs). If that production continues, he will have a long, bright future in Denver.

Punter Britton Colquitt has not officially signed his restricted free-agent tender, but when he does, the Broncos will have their most productive punter back in the fold. His 42.1-yard net average last year was the best in club history, breaking his previous record, and led the AFC. Only three other punters dropped a higher percentage of their punts inside the 20-yard-line.

Aaron Brewer handled the long-snapping duties flawlessly as a rookie after making the team ahead of Lonie Paxton. Brewer was more adept at getting downfield after the snap, and finished the season with two tackles. But perhaps just as important in the overall salary-cap calculus is his cost; the Broncos paid Brewer a standard rookie salary, saved more than a half-million dollars and received comparable production.

But to maximize the potential of the unit, the Broncos need kicker Matt Prater to become more accurate, particularly in the second half of the season, when he slumped after a perfect first eight games.

Although Prater remained among the league's pace-setters on kickoffs, his field-goal percentage of 81.3 percent ranked 25th among kickers with at least 15 attempts, and he was 27th in accuracy outside 40 yards, going 8 of 13 (61.5 percent).

The ability of Prater to deliver a last-gasp kick was established in 2011, and the Broncos wouldn't have made the playoffs that year without his flawless overtime work in wins over Miami, San Diego and Chicago, which included three game-tying or game-winning field goals from 50 or more yards. Those kicks demonstrate Prater's ceiling; if he finds more consistency, then the Broncos can legitimately claim to possess the league's best special teams.