The “Should (fill in the player) return kick/punts” question emerges again, this time with David Wilson

My buddy Ed Valentine over at Big Blue View brought up the debate of whether or not David Wilson should return kicks this season. That’s always a fascinating debate to me, and one that I’ve had quite a bit with DeSean Jackson and Dez Bryant as punt returners.

One way to look at the debate is to ask, “What would my opponent prefer?” Clearly, if I’m an opponent of the Giants, I don’t want David Wilson returning kicks, the same way I wouldn’t want DeSean Jackson or Dez Bryant returning punts against me. As an Eagles fan, last season I watched Wilson return kicks Week 3 against Philly for 36, 48, 45, 53, 23, and 37 yards. That would be 5 returns of at least 36 yards in one game. To put that in perspective, the Eagles have had one kick return longer than 33 yards in the last two years, which was 44 yards, and they actually lost a fumble on that one decent return.

If you have a guy that’s among the best in the game at doing something, it’s really difficult to have him stop doing that thing. Wilson was 6th in the NFL in KR average last season:

David Wilson

He also had at least 14 more kick returns than anyone in the top 10, which shows a certain level of consistency.

In the past I’ve advocated that DeSean Jackson and Dez Bryant not give up their punt return duties. However…

Kick returns are not punt returns. I think that sometimes the two are lumped together as being dangerous.  Kick returns are brutal.  On kick returns, you have 10 players running full speed down the field, as the returner runs full speed head on at them.  It’s a lot like the fight scenes in Braveheart, where the English and Scottish forces charge at one another from a across a field at full speed.

Punt returns are completely different.  For starters, it’s sheer numbers.  At the snap on a punt, only the eligible receivers can release downfield, with the personnel on the line either having blocking assignments, or ineligible to run downfield until the punt is away.  This creates much more of a “broken field” for the returner.  If the punter is able to put good hangtime on his kick and the gunners are in a position to make a play, the punt returner can simply call for a fair catch.  In situations where nothing is there, he can simply try to get to the sidelines or just go down.  The risk of bodily harm is far less on punt returns in comparison to kick returns.

If the Giants were loaded at RB, I might be inclined to let Wilson continue to return kicks, but they’re not. I’m sure Coughlin remembers last year when he had to insert Kregg Lumpkin into the lineup after signing him off the street, and that was in a season in which the Giants had better depth at RB than they do now.

But most importantly, in Wilson the Giants have a player who has the chance to be an elite back in the NFL, and I’m not one to throw the word “elite” around lightly. In 1998, Jason Sehorn was returning a kick during the preseason, and he tore his ACL and MCL. Despite what revisionist history might say, Jason Sehorn was a good player, but after that injury he was never the same. The Giants’ opponents may be a lot more comfortable kicking off to a guy like Jerrel Jernigan instead of Wilson, but risking a player on kick returns who could very well become the best weapon in your offense is an extremely risky proposition, and one I would not be on board with.

20 Comments

  1. In the 2012 season, the New York Giants went with WR Reuben Randle to return punts. Meanwhile, most of the kick returns were done by RB David Wilson. WR Domenik Hixon saw action returning punts as well, just as he has been the main special teams guy in years past.

  2. silver price says:

    If you are looking to add return points to your league it seems like 1 pt for 25 kick return yards and 1 pt for 10 punt return yards is about the highest I would go. I also saw quite a few leagues with 1 pt per 50 yds, and so on. If you are in those leagues the impact return men have on overall points isn’t as great. In researching return men to draft make sure you aren’t just picking them because you are in a “return yardage” league. Make sure you research your settings. Are punt returns worth the same as kick returns, more? Does the amount of points added to a a 3rd/4th WR/RB make enough of an impact for them to even be draftable? Are defensive backs who return kicks and do nothing at all on offense worth drafting? Can you draft them? Are you in an IDP league that allows a player like Daniel Manning to get points for tackles and return yards? You get the point.

  3. Lloyd Ross says:

    In the 2012 season, the New York Giants went with WR Reuben Randle to return punts. Meanwhile, most of the kick returns were done by RB David Wilson. WR Domenik Hixon saw action returning punts as well, just as he has been the main special teams guy in years past.

  4. Punt returns are completely different. For starters, it’s sheer numbers. At the snap on a punt, only the eligible receivers can release downfield, with the personnel on the line either having blocking assignments, or ineligible to run downfield until the punt is away. This creates much more of a “broken field” for the returner. If the punter is able to put good hangtime on his kick and the gunners are in a position to make a play, the punt returner can simply call for a fair catch. In situations where nothing is there, he can simply try to get to the sidelines or just go down. The risk of bodily harm is far less on punt returns in comparison to kick returns.

  5. In the 2012 season, the New York Giants went with WR Reuben Randle to return punts. Meanwhile, most of the kick returns were done by RB David Wilson. WR Domenik Hixon saw action returning punts as well, just as he has been the main special teams guy in years past.

  6. [...] The “Should (fill in the player) return kick/punts” question emerges again, this time wi… [...]

  7. Phillyboijr says:

    The Eagles can put Felix Jones back there as a returner; gauranteed 18 yards everytime!

  8. gmen23 says:

    Whats Dave Meggett doing these days?

  9. Wilson’s final kick-off return numbers in 2012 were 57 returns for 1533 yards with one touchdown, averaging out to 26.9 yards per return.

  10. [...] Link: Opinion: Wilson Should Not Be Returning Kicks BTB [...]

  11. mick says:

    It sure was nice seeing him be such a weapon back there though! Can’t remember the last time the GMen had that on special teams.

  12. Zach says:

    I’ve always felt that punt return to be the more dangerous of the two. More often than not, even on the big hits – the Kick returners have a chance to brace for impact. I can’t recall a kick returner fielding a kick and being hit instantly.

    I think the fact that a punt returner doesn’t always see the hit coming leads to huge unprotected hits.

    I’d be interested in the number of injuries to the players fielding kicks/punts – and which is greater.

    1. Dez Bryant's Probation Officer says:

      Hinkie has those numbers.

    2. ct17 says:

      And if the ball gets there one second before the unprotected hit, you wind up with guys diving at and grabbing for ankles as the returner darts to the side.

      I think KR gets more hits, but they are more likely to be clean tackles. The dancing punt returner gets desperate grabs, have to watch those long limbs. This is why I have always liked small, quick WR types at PR, like Welker, and RBs with a decent build at KR. Not many of those, but Da’rell Scott would be an example.

  13. NYG_Slater says:

    Agreed. 57 attempts…..ugh. Roll the dice enough, eventually you’ll find snake eyes staring back. I’d be fine using him sparingly in critical situations, (playoffs/4th quarter in a close game) but he doesn’t need close to 60 attempts a year.

  14. Dez Bryant's Probation Officer says:

    I would like David Wilson to return kickoffs against the Cowboys.

  15. Agreed. The “What doesn’t my opponent want me to?” question really holds limited applicability here since the move would be made to guard against a long term negative effect while your opponent on a given week clearly only cares about the short term.

    1. ATG says:

      If you add the question, “What would my opponent want me to do in the weeks leading up to our game?” It might change the answer. I would certainly want Wilson and Dez returning every kick preceding the games preceding the one when they play the Eagles.

      1. ATG says:

        Doh!

        … returning every kick in the games preceding the one in which they play the Eagles.

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