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:
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.