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A look at the Redskins’ punt & kick returner options for 2018

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Both in the draft and college free agent period, the ‘Skins loaded up on potential return men who could lighten the load on Jamison Crowder and Chris Thompson

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

Let’s start with a look at the Redskins returners from 2017

As you can see, Jamison Crowder was the primary punt returner last season, though DHall acted as the returner two times. Hall is sort-of-almost retired now, and a lot of concern lingers from the many muffs and fumbles that plagued Jamison Crowder in 2017. I think everyone wants to have options at punt returner to prevent a replay of last year.

In 2017, kick return duties were primarily handled by Baushaud Breeland and Chris Thompson, but seven other players returned one or more kickoffs during the season.

With Breeland no longer a Redskin, and Chris Thompson returning from injury, there is reason to think that the coaching staff might want to identify a new man to handle kickoff returns. At the very least, the team will need a backup return man on the roster.

We’ll have to wait and see the ultimate effect of newly adopted rule changes in the kicking game, but some analysts have suggested that kickoffs may become more like punts, with more open field opportunities and a greater reward for explosiveness and speed, which could affect the choice of kick returner.

A little background

When Jamison Crowder struggled as a punt returner last season (after being one of the best in the league in 2016), Gruden responded to reporters’ questions by initially expressing confidence in Crowder, and later lamenting that the Redskins simply didn’t have another punt returner on the roster. There was a brief -- very brief — experiment with having Deangelo Hall line up as the returner, but that was quickly scratched as soon as it became apparent that DHall’s play at DB didn’t justify having him active on game day.

It seems as though the Redskins coaching staff and front office are determined not to get into a similar situation this season, as the off-season acquisitions both in the draft and with undrafted college free agents have yielded a number of players with return abilities.

During a minicamp press conference, Gruden answered a reporter’s direct question about having a backup plan for Jamison Crowder as the punt returner:

“I think it’s important to have another guy that can do it. Last year, we kind of did a poor job of having a guy who could do it, and that’s my fault. DeAngelo Hall did one game, but we need another guy that can do it.

Having Trey Quinn and Greg [Stroman] will be a big benefit. There’s some other guys out here we’re going to look at as far as opportunity to return some kicks, so we’ll see. But Greg will get an opportunity to do that and take some pressure off of Jamison, but still, we anticipate Jamison being the return guy.”

So Gruden did what coaches do; he expressed confidence in the incumbent while opening up the idea of, well, not so much ‘competition’, but ‘options’ at the position.

Gruden mentioned two names in particular in that press conference — Quinn and Stroman — but when you include the undrafted free agents, and expand the discussion to include kick returners as well as punt returners, you’ll find that the Redskins have increased their options pretty dramatically going into the 2018 training camp. There will be a number of players who had strong experience as returners in college that the coaches can get a look at in preseason.

Punt return options

Incumbent: Jamison Crowder

Rookies:

Kick return options

Incumbents: Chris Thompson / Byron Marshall / Maurice Harris / Samaje Perine / Kapri Bibbs

Rookies:

A look at the punt returner options

Being draft picks, Quinn and Stroman would appear to have the inside track among the rookie options, putting Kidsy on the outside looking in, as he would have to probably make the team as a specialist return man.

What did each player do in college?

Trey Quinn

NCAA Football: North Texas at Southern Methodist Andrew Dieb-USA TODAY Sports

Firstly, I’m not sure why Gruden named Quinn as a return man. Trey Quinn had just 6 punt returns in his college career: one as a freshman, and five as a senior.

He has a career total of 20 punt return yards, and a career-longest return of 8 yards.

He may be able to line up and field a punt, but Quinn doesn’t have a strong pedigree as a returner, and Mr. Irrelevant is by no means a roster lock.

Second opinion

I found this short pre-draft analysis of Stroman by a writer at Pat’s Pulpit, the Patriot’s SB Nation site, fairly interesting:

Even though the Patriots could use a slot receiver, Quinn has very little experience returning punts. While I think he could make a great slot receiver in the future, the Patriots aren’t going to have a 5th WR that has little to no Special Teams impact. Quinn has 6 career punt returns in college so using him as a punt returner is a bit of a projection although his agility numbers profile well. Quinn is limited to pure slot duty due to average size and speed

Quinn’s ability to flourish off option routes makes him an intriguing fit for the Patriots. He could easily turn into a safety-blanket against zone and be a perennial 100-catch guy and chain mover from the slot. He has some ability as a potential punt return option as he develops in the slot. The Patriots are one of the few teams that can maximize his potential on the football field

It seems to me that Quinn might offer long-term potential as a punt returner or backup returner, but he’s unlikely to be the primary punt return option for the Redskins in 2018 unless he shows a lot of ability and development during training camp and the preseason.

Greg Stroman

NCAA Football: Virginia Tech at Pittsburgh Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Stroman was much more of a return man in college, acting as the Hokies’ punt returner for 4 years (and doubling as a kick returner in his junior year).

Here’s a look at his return numbers:

  • As you can see, he had between 25 and 36 punt returns per season, and his average per return increased every year, from 6.9 y.p.r. as a freshman, to 11.3 y.p.r. as a senior.
  • Stroman added a touchdown in both his sophomore and junior years, and another 2 TDs as a senior.
  • His longest punt return improved each year, logging 38, 67, 87, 91 across his 4-year career.

Greg Stroman has impressive statistics to back up his claim to the punt returner’s job. And while he, like Quinn, was a 7th round selection, and no lock to make the roster on his positional skills alone, the Redskin positional depth looks a little more friendly to Stroman than to Quinn, and Stroman’s obvious edge in the return game probably puts him in the stronger position here.

Darvin Kidsy

Kidsy was a tryout player that came into the rookie minicamp and was offered a contract after his 3-day tryout, indicating that the coaches liked what they saw on the field enough to bring him into an already-crowded field of potential return men.

Darvin Kidsy played for two universities -- North Texas & Texas Southern — and based on the Gibbs4potus film study posted yesterday, Kidsy is a very athletic player, capable of sudden starts & stops, and able to stop on a dime.

Here are his return numbers for his college career:

Kidsy’s best year as a returner was his freshman year of 2014. Last season, with Texas Southern, he returned 5 punts for 15 yards, and had no kickoff returns at all.

Punt Returner Summary

  • All in all, it looks like Stroman is the best bet to push Crowder as the starting punt returner, or to act as his backup.
  • With the Redskins having cut Pierson-El yesterday, Kidsy may still have an opportunity to recover his freshman form and make the Redskins as the primary punt return man, though the odds on that happening seem pretty long. He seems more likely to be a practice squad candidate at best, and with the competition from two draft picks (Stroman and Quinn), he may not even have a strong chance at practice squad.
  • Quinn seems to be in the conversation as a punt returner only because Gruden mentioned his name; there’s very little in his college career to make him a top candidate for the returner role, however journalists attending open minicamp sessions have reported that Quinn has been working out with the punt returners.

My belief is that Stroman will make the 53-man roster as DB depth and either the primary or backup punt returner (with the bonus of having some kick return experience), while Kidsy — or possibly Quinn — will probably have the opportunity to make the practice squad on the strength of potential explosiveness as a punt returner.

A look at the kickoff returner options

Danny Johnson

Danny Johnson had 43 kickoff returns in a 4-year, 46-game career at Southern University; in other words, he averaged about one return per game. With a career average of 23.0 yards per return, he appears to be competent if undistinguished. His best year was his freshman year when he had 11 returns for 374 yards (34.0 avg), and his worst was his junior year, when he averaged just 13.7 yards on 10 returns.

Johnson also handled a few punts, with 13 returns in 11 games as a senior, when he averaged 17.1 yards per return. In other words, he shows signs of being a capable punt returner as well as kickoff returner, but his sample size as a punt returner is pretty small.

Martez Carter

Carter is a more experienced dual-threat returner, with 92 kick returns and 26 punt returns in a 4-year career at Grambling State.

Except for a dip in production in his senior year, his kickoff return averages were pretty consistent for most of his career, while his punt return averages are more pedestrian.

Carter is a running back, who averaged 6.6 yards per carry and scored 29 touchdowns as a runner in three years. He also pulled in 73 receptions for 959 yards (13.0 avg) and 9 touchdowns in the same three years.

For a Redskins team that needs depth at running back, kick off returner and backup punt returner, Martez Carter has an impressive pedigree. He also comes to the Redskins from Grambling State, Doug Williams’ alma mater — and a football program where Williams was the head coach for 9 seasons, the most recent being 2013.

While Carter is a UDFA, he has the kind of broad skill set — including being one of the most experienced and competent return men on the roster — that a rookie needs to allow him to keep his burgundy & gold uniform and pads after the final preseason game ends.

Known in college as “Mr. Excitement”, Carter is impressive as a returner on film. Here’s what was written in his recent UDFA profile here on Hogs Haven:

As a punt and kickoff returner, Carter reminds me a bit of Redskins great, Brian Mitchell. He goes directly upfield on returns, and has a stocky body for his height, much like Mitchell. He keeps defenders at bay with a straight arm on a return for a touchdown here.

The Redskins have a deep backfield for now with Chris Thompson, Derrius Guice and Samaje Perine all locks to make the roster. I expect them to add a 4th running back to the group and it will probably be a player who is a good threat in the passing game.

My favorite to take the 4th spot is Carter.

He will be a good understudy to Thompson as a third down running back. Even more importantly, Carter will be a great threat in the return game. If Carter is not kept on the Redskins’ 53 man roster, I think another team will pick him up and add him to their roster.

Kickoff Returner Summary

Just like Johnson and Carter offer some experience as punt returners, Greg Stroman and Darvin Kidsy each offer some experience as a kick returner, but the former two (Johnson & Carter) have a lot more experience.

For rookies, special teams contribution is often the difference between making or not making an NFL roster, but positional depth and need are the primary considerations for this team right now.

Martez Carter is a running back, a position group that is largely set with Guice, Perine and Thompson. For a fourth running back to make the roster, he would have to fit the offensive scheme and be a very strong contributor on special teams. I think Martez Carter fits that bill pretty well, though returning veterans like Kapri Bibbs, Byron Marshall and Rob Kelley all have arguments for why they might be better options.

Danny Johnson is a cornerback. When I look down the depth chart at the position I see:

  • Josh Norman
  • Quinton Dunbar
  • Fabian Moreau
  • Orlando Scandrick
  • Joshua Holsey
  • Greg Stroman
  • Ranthony Texada
  • Danny Johnson

If it comes down to a numbers game with the 53-man squad, then Greg Stroman — as a draft pick and likely punt returner — probably has the edge, though as a 7th-round selection, that edge is very thin.

My guess is that unless one of these rookie players flashes big time in the pre-season, the designated kick returner on opening day in Arizona will either be Chris Thompson or Maurice Harris from the 2017 team. Of course, there’s no guarantee that Mo Harris even makes the team, but I expect him to. If he does, I expect that the coaches may want to shift the burden of being the primary kick returner from CT to Harris.

If the coaches want to look at rookie options, it will probably come down to which of these four players (Stroman, Carter, Kidsy or Johnson) has done the most to win the position battle on the team — filling the role of kick returner will be a secondary consideration; however, I’d suggest that Stroman’s ability as a punt returner probably gets him on the roster, and earns him a position as Thompson or Harris’s backup on kickoff returns, unless Carter can somehow find his way onto the running back depth chart.

Poll

Of these 5 players (Stroman, Quinn, Johnson, Carter, Kidsy), how many will be on the Redskins 53-man roster on opening day in Arizona?

This poll is closed

  • 0%
    5
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    4
    (27 votes)
  • 29%
    3
    (193 votes)
  • 53%
    2
    (354 votes)
  • 10%
    1
    (72 votes)
  • 0%
    0
    (4 votes)
656 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which of these three players is most likely to be on the roster as a Redskins starting or backup punt returner on opening day in Arizona?

This poll is closed

  • 19%
    Trey Quinn
    (114 votes)
  • 78%
    Greg Stroman
    (465 votes)
  • 2%
    Darvin Kidsy
    (16 votes)
595 votes total Vote Now

Poll

Which of these four players is most likely to be on the roster as a Redskins starting or backup kickoff returner on opening day in Arizona?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Danny Johnson
    (12 votes)
  • 41%
    Martez Carter
    (249 votes)
  • 54%
    Greg Stroman
    (328 votes)
  • 1%
    Darvin Kidsy
    (9 votes)
598 votes total Vote Now