I listed six candidates here who are the likeliest to be among the contenders. With 90 people on the roster in training camp, there are a ton of guys that get work returning kickoffs and punts. These are the six that I am isolating from the pack.
- Quan Bray
- Chester Rogers
- Marlon Mack
- Josh Ferguson
- JoJo Natson
- Dalton Crossan
Bray found his way onto the Colts’ roster in 2016 after being a standout return specialist as a rookie in 2015. Part of him earning a roster spot in 2016 was due to also having potential as a receiver. As the 2016 training camp and preseason developed, Bray failed to make his impact felt anywhere except for special teams. Rookie undrafted free agent Chester Rogers and Tevaun Smith shined as receivers while Bray melted into the rest of the position group. In October, Bray broke his ankle and was placed on season-ending Injured Reserve. Rogers stepped into Bray’s role as punt returner and excelled. Now, Bray finds himself battling for his status with the Colts. Even though he is a high quality return man (26.7 kickoff returns, 8.0 punt returns), Rogers, Smith, Phillip Dorsett and Bug Howard are going to be in the mix at receiver.
Rogers almost seems like a shoo-in for a roster spot at this point. His specialty is as a receiver, but he is more than capable as a punt returner. As a rookie in 2016, Rogers returned 13 punts for 119 yards (9.2 avg). Two of his returns went for 30 yards each. If Bray does not make the roster, then there is a good chance that the punt return duties are Rogers’ to lose.
The first of a few rookies that I am projecting as possible return men, Mack seems like a perfect fit as a kickoff returner. In his offensive system at USF, it was a spread running system that saw him get a lot of wide handoffs, handoffs where he was already gaining momentum and a ton of long runs broken to the outside. From the looks of it, Colts coaches put Mack in on kickoff returns in rookie minicamp, maybe even in OTA’s and minicamp for all we know.
Ferguson was in the Colts’ kickoff return rotation last year, but he has to lock up a roster spot first. He is most definitely on the bubble, as the Colts already have Frank Gore, Robert Turbin and Mack at running back. Dalton Crossan and Troymaine Pope are also expected to put up a fight for a roster spot. If Ferguson holds onto his roster spot, he likely will not be the primary kickoff returner, but will be in the rotation again.
At 5-7, 153 pounds, Natson is tiny by NFL standards. However, like many of his fellow punt-returning brethren, sometimes, smaller is better. In college, Natson was a big-time punt returner. In 2016, he earned First Team All-MAC honors and finished second in the nation in punt return average (16.3) and touchdowns (2). For his college career, Natson returned 72 punts for 904 yards (12.6 avg) and 6 touchdowns. He played at Utah State initially, tying for first all-time in Mountain West history in punt return touchdowns (4).
Crossan returned kickoffs collegiately, but that was against a much lesser level of competition (University of New Hampshire). Still, he performed well, returning 71 kicks for 1,793 yards (25.3 avg) and 1 touchdown. He may compete in the rotation for the Colts during training camp and the preseason, but he would likely be a few down the pecking order if he made the roster.
- Running Back
- Wide Receiver
- Tight End
- Offensive Line
- Defensive Line
- Inside Linebacker
- Edge Defender