JOSH HUFF and Darren Sproles. I’m hoping this year it’ll be those guys who assume the mantle of our primary KR/PR. If so, I hope they absolutely rip shit up, because I’ve been hungry for good KR/PR who was NOT also our primary WR, for some years now.
Looking up and down this roster taking in both their pro and collegiate histories, the pickings for the position are really kind of slim. Would you believe that this roster currently has 13 WR’s on it and only 4 of them have any significant KR history? Out of 6 RB’s, only 1 has any. The reason most teams try not to use DB’s, is because they usually aren’t natural ball carriers, and generally lack the same level of awareness/radar/ “Spidey Sense” in traffic that you will get from an offensive player.
Last year, our main guys were Damaris Johnson and Brandon Boykin. Neither man has proven to be much for returning kicks, and it would surprise me to see either of them offered a primary role in doing it. (Considering that Johnson’s role as a WR also declined sharply from 2012 to 2013, and that he was just buried under even more competition, I’d say it’s safe to say he won’t make the 2014 roster.)
While Huff wasn’t much of a threat as a return man in college, he has experience with it, and I think Chip Kelly will give his 3rd round draft pick (and former Duck), every opportunity to make the roster. If Huff ends up the KR, he could make an immediate contribution in his rookie year, and help sell the draft stock of Oregon players, who despite the schools run of success over the last few years, tend to not be high picks.
Sproles is no spring chicken, and he really hasn’t been scary as a PR since he left San Diego for New Orleans. Considering how poorly we’ve fared since 2012 with Johnson fair catching as many as he returns, Sproles might still be able to help us just by virtue of giving us someone who won’t pussy out, and help us get a couple more yards of field position here and there.
That field position could end up being crucial, especially on field goals given the lack of range for Alex Henery (and the likelihood that he’ll win the job again in 2014). The 5 yards we get from a short punt return could be the difference in a 4th down decision to kick the FG, or to punt. Multiply that over 10 to 12 possessions in a season, and you can see how Johnson’s FC rate was hurtful to the team.
To most fans ‘fair catch to return ratio’ isn’t even a thing. (Since you follow this site, yet again you know something else they don’t.) Sports analysts don’t bring it up; sportswriters don’t mention it because they don’t want to have to explain it/don’t think you’ll get it anyway; and I dare you to Google it. I last brought it up before the Draft.
As a former OT I will tell you, you develop a preference for who’s called on to field a punt. Not due to your confidence in whether the guy can break it, but based on whether or not you think he’ll even try to. I’d bet money that the Eagles offensive players would also like to see more of a gap between returns and fair catches. They won’t say that outright, but if you ask a player about punt returner “A” and punt returner “B”, look at the players face before they start giving the safe answer. Sometimes truth is silent.
So again, with how few options we have for the KR/PR positions, Huff and Sproles are the two that I think make the most sense and give us the best chance at improving on what was one of our least talked about Achilles Heels in 2013.