INDIANAPOLIS — Fans around the league will recognize the names Jarvis Landry and Tyler Lockett as two of the more explosive return men in football today.
But, as Quan Bray was able to prove last season, he belongs right up there.
Pro Football Focus confirmed that notion, ranking Bray as the third-highest graded return man in the NFL in 2015, right behind the Miami Dolphins' Landry and the Seattle Seahawks' Lockett.
The speedster out of Auburn was able to carve a nice little niche last season, giving the already-talented Colts special teams units another weapon on which to hang their hat.
In just nine games, the rookie finished with 21 kickoff returns for 570 yards (an average of 27.1 yards per return, which led the AFC) and had 21 punt returns for 166 yards (an average of 7.9 yards per return). As a punt returner, Bray had returns that included 11, 15, 16, 17, 19 (twice), 20 and 33 yards, respectively.
Asked this week about how he was able to have such success as a returner last year, and Bray credited special teams coordinator Tom McMahon with keeping him ready each and every week.
"It's just being prepared," Bray told Colts.com. "You know, getting everything out of meetings with the special teams coordinator and just watching a lot of film and knowing what to expect and knowing what the opponent's going to bring to you.
"It's just night and day from there."
Sure there's something to be said about being prepared, but Bray also possesses the elite athleticism and instincts that put him over most others when it comes to returning kicks and punts.
He's not always the fastest guy on the field — he ran a 4.5 40-yard dash at his Pro Day last March — but not everybody has the sixth sense Bray has to just know — at the drop of a hat, with multiple defenders bearing down on him — which direction he needs to go in order to get the best return possible.
"It's a lot of both," Bray said about that preparation-vs.-skill component to returning. "Because there's definitely a lot of instincts involved in just playing football in general, but being prepared and knowing what return we're going to run, knowing who gets the most tackles on their special teams — it's very big to understand that, too, because then you'll go out and you can just play fast and react to whatever you need to react to."Working at receiver
Bray is listed on the Colts' roster as a wide receiver, though he's yet to haul in a pass in his brief career.
A behind the scenes look at Bray's 2016 photo shoot in the #ColtsPhotoGarage
It's not unusual for an NFL team to utilize the bottom receiver on its depth chart as its primary returner, but Bray says he's been working hard this offseason to contribute both on special teams and on offense.
"Just for me, just getting in my right depths, working on releases and just being prepared and knowing the plays," Bray said of what, specifically, he's been working on at receiver. "If you can know the plays and play fast, then hopefully I'll have a good chance to help the offense a lot this year."
Some receivers are hands guys; some are strong route runners; others are pure speedsters. Bray likes to think that, at his best, he's a mixture of all three.
"I label myself as a ballplayer, man," he said. "Once I get the ball in my hands, I just try to make things happen, you know? Getting yards after the catch and bringing a little bit of excitement."
Bray has already brought excitement to the Colts on special teams. And as he heads home for the next few weeks for a little break before reporting to training camp in Anderson July 26, he hopes to continue to push his overall momentum forward.
"I just have to stay fresh and make sure I come back better than I am now," Bray said. "And come back with a chip still on my shoulder, as I did last year."