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Broncos' search for speed yields haul of explosive offensive players

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- No team was worse at generating plays from scrimmage of 20 or more yards last year than the Broncos. Simply put, the offense wasn't explosive.

The Broncos also were one of just five teams last year that failed to generate a punt return of longer than 25 yards and a kickoff return of at least 50 yards. Once again, a unit wasn't explosive.

So just after players returned to UCHealth Training Center for workouts on April 10, Head Coach Vance Joseph addressed a crowded media room and declared that the Broncos needed to find "juice."

The last two days, they got it.

"We've added some real speed to the football team," Joseph said.

Wide receivers Carlos Henderson and Isaiah McKenzie and running back De'Angelo Henderson have the potential to provide explosion, speed and matchup problems that last year's offense struggled to generate, especially down the stretch as injuries decimated the running-back corps.

The need for speed was filled.

It starts with Louisiana Tech's Carlos Henderson, the first of two third-round picks Friday. He led FBS in all-purpose yardage last year. He averaged 18.7 yards per catch, 9.5 yards per rush and 32.2 yards per kickoff return. He uses his background as a running back to bounce off defenders and turn short gains into long sprints.

"He is a machine after the catch," Joseph said.

After trading up with the Packers, the next speedy component became McKenzie, a quick blur whose three-cone drill time was the second-fastest among all wide receivers at the NFL Scouting Combine last month. McKenzie was one of only two receivers at the Combine to rank in the top six players in both the 40-yard dash and the three-cone drill, showing a rare blend of speed and quickness.

But McKenzie is anything but a workout wonder. With five career touchdowns on punt returns and one touchdown every seven offensive touches last year, the 5-foot-7, 173-pounder is a small player who becomes a big home-run threat every time he touches the football.

"He can carry the ball. He'll probably be a fifth [wide receiver] that can do a lot of things on the offensive side, so that's a luxury to have," Executive Vice President of Football Operations/General Manager John Elway said. "That's why it was important for us to get him and to get up there to make sure we could secure him at the bottom of the fifth [round] because we knew he could do that, the value he brought on special teams.

"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."

Like Carlos Henderson, McKenzie could find work in the slot.

"He's dynamic with the ball in his hands," Joseph said.

Finally, the Broncos added De'Angelo Henderson, a 5-foot-8, 208-pound running back who scored at least one touchdown in a Division I-record 35 consecutive games. His "great burst," as Joseph noted, could make him as valuable catching passes out of the backfield as he could be in the rushing attack.

With those three players, Joseph expects the 2017 offense to cause matchup problems for interior linebackers and slot cornerbacks that last year's offense could not.

"We've got those two guys outside [WRs Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders] and most teams are going to play in bracket or shell coverage, so you have to have guys inside to attack linebackers and attack the slot players," Joseph said. "That was accomplished with Carlos and De'Angelo and Isaiah McKenzie."

With the 203rd pick in the 2017 NFL Draft, the Broncos select RB De'Angelo Henderson, Coastal Carolina. (Photos by AP)

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