Now I realize asking this question is sacrilege to many Redskins fans, but it deserves to be asked. For as electric and talented a player that Brandon Banks is, he has yet to prove he can offer anything to the offensive side of the football. With a far improved depth chart at receiver this year, including many young talents, Banks will need to show versatility to make the roster. Now there are a lot of arguments for retaining Banks, but when looked at closely they don’t hold up to scrutiny. Here is my take on the following arguments:
The new kickoff rule won’t have a huge impact on the return numbers:
False, going into last night’s preseason game the touchback % through the first 15 games was 33%, up from 16.4% from the regular season last year (last night’s game might have dropped it a percentage point or two). That is a 100% increase and if anything that number is exceedingly low. Many teams are acknowledging that they are trying to kick to initiate a return so they can work on their coverage teams. The Bears in fact took it to an extreme, and purposely set up their first two kickoffs from the 30 (the old position) before the league came in and stopped them. In addition teams are returning a number of kicks that are 4-9 yards deep in the end zone that typically would be knelled down, as they try to work on their return games. Also, given that is is preseason two other factors work against getting an accurate percentage of touchbacks. First we saw a higher number of offside penalties on the kicking team, which forced re-kicks from the 30 yard line. Second, a high number of kicks are being done by 2nd tier kickers who have no shot of making the opening day roster. Combine all these factors and you are looking at a percentage that is a lot higher than 33%, in fact it wouldn’t be surprising to see the number in the 40’s.
Even With the extra touchback’s Kick Returners will still have a major impact on the game:
Wrong again, remember this isn’t exactly new ground for the NFL as kickoffs were from the 35 from 1974-1993, so we can see what impact this rule change will have. Last season for instance there were 23 kickoff returns for touchdowns, by comparison in the four years prior to the rule change (1990-1993) there were a total of 24 kickoffs returned for a score. Kickoff yardage is also dramatically different as we are used to seeing between 15-20 guys with over 1,000 return yards (and many of them 1,300+), but previously you’d see one maybe two guys sneak over the 1,000 yard mark. Now a lot of that has to do with the opportunities as, there would maybe be one to three guys with 40 or more returns the last time the kickoffs were from the 35, compared to that being essentially the floor for return men of late. The decrease in yardage though had another factor as yards per return were down across the board. Whereas now it is basically a standard for a 24 yards or more return average, it was just over 21 yards prior, with only a handful of guys cracking the 24 yard mark.
Now I realize some people will say that the new rule limiting the run up to the kickoff to 5 yards will help keep returns a big part of the game, but I don’t think it will have the impact that some people are making it out to be. Remember that the last time that kickoffs were from the 35, return teams could form wedges to block, which the lack of I would bet counterbalances any advantage given by the shorter run up.
Banks has the talent to be the exception to the new rule, look at his 58 yard return in the preseason game:
Look Banks is a talented return man and was very good for the Skins last year, but he wasn’t great or exceptional. Sure for Redskins fans he was a nice boost to a return game that hasn’t had a legitimate threat since Brian Mitchell. Mitchell is a perfect example as to why this rule change will impact Banks. Mitchell is one of the best return men ever to play the game, but his value as a kick returner was non-existent until they moved it back to the 30 yard line. Mitchell’s kick return numbers in 1993 are quite ordinary, 33 returns, for 678 yards and a 20.5 yards/return average. In 1994, when they moved it back, he had 58 returns for 1,478 yards and a 25.5 yards/return average. That does not bode well for Banks, and considering that there are multiple return men who are more talented, Banks isn’t likely to be the exception to the rule.
As for his 58 yard return in the first preseason game, that was nice be we can’t judge his impact on a single return. Banks won’t be allowed to return balls like that (9 yards deep in the endzone) during the regular season so if anything it is a fluke play. Banks could have just as easily been tackled at the 15 yard line, and will have that happen at times during games.
Even with the decreased kick return chances, Banks should make it because of his punt return ability as well. Banks is our best return man and no one else can do what he does:
This is a twofer, yes so far we have only looked at kick return ability, but punt return’s aren’t nearly as valuable as kick returns, and shouldn’t be a deciding factor. With the new rule change Banks would probably have more punt returns than kickoff returns, but even still the chance for touchdowns is lower (or at least was lower), and the yards per return is far lower. Now that isn’t to say those yards aren’t important, but rather unless you are a touchdown machine like Devin Hester, the impact isn’t as great.
That leads into the other statement that makes Banks out to be the only one who can return punts and kicks for the Redskins. The way you hear Redskins fans tell it, it sounds like our options are Brandon Banks or Antwaan Randle El. In fact the Redskins have multiple additional options, all of whom are better receivers and can help out other special teams units as well. Second year receiver Terrence Austin was a very productive return man in college, and showed some of that in the first preseason game as he had a 19 yard punt return late in the game. Austin has improved his route running and looks like he could be an effective depth receiver, if the Redskins had an injury or two. Rookie Niles Paul was a big time returner at Nebraska, who was constantly a threat to break a big one, in addition to being the team’s top receiver as well. Paul has had a good camp so far and could surprise as a rookie as a part of the offense. Fellow rookie Aldrick Robinson, didn’t have a great first impression when it came to special teams last Friday as he muffed two punts, but that shouldn’t be held against him. Last preseason Banks had his share of muffed punts and fumbles and he turned out alright as a return man. Robinson had little return experience in college, but he has electrifying speed, and would be able to help out on offense as well. That is three guys, who have the ability to be very good return men just like Banks. Now Banks is likely a little better than them (though it is possible that one of them would even be better than Banks), but the difference is probably negligible. Banks might average a 1-1.5 yards more per return, and have just the slightest chance more to return one for a touchdown. That small of a difference doesn’t outweigh the ability of these other receivers to contribute on offense this year, as well as in the future.
The Redskins can afford to keep Banks on as an extra player and keep all the receivers they want to:
I just don’t see how this is possible, after subtracting the 3 roster spots for the special teamers (kicker, punter and long snapper), that leaves 50 roster spots to split between offense and defense. Hopefully the Redskins are smart and split it down the middle, 25 for each.
Right now here is how the Redskins offense breaks down: (note some of the players could change)
3 QB’s: Grossman, Beck, Clemens
3 RB’s: Hightower, Helu, Royster
2 FB’s: Young, K. Williams
3 TE’s: Cooley, Davis, Paulsen
6 WR’s: Moss, Gaffney, Armstrong, Hankerson, plus two more
8 OL: T. Williams, Lichtensteiger, Montgomery, Chester, J. Brown, Locklear, W. Smith, Hurt
That is 25 players right there, and even if the team decides to keep only one FB, they could add an additional RB (i.e. Torain), a TE given Cooley’s uncertain health, or another offensive lineman. The one thing that doesn’t make sense is to add essentially a 7th WR, who only plays on two units kick return and punt return. He isn’t on any coverage units, like say a FB or TE, or a blocker like another offensive lineman could be. So the real question is can Banks make one of those final two receiver spots.
To me the short answer is no. Right now I’d put veteran Donte Stallworth as well as the young receivers Paul, Austin and Robinson all ahead of Banks on the depth chart. All four players should be at least solid offensive weapons if need be. Paul has the potential to develop into a starter down the line, and Austin and Robinson have all the makings of being a 3rd WR in the future. The three young guys can all be quality return options as mentioned above (and Stallworth can return kicks in a pinch as well), and Paul and Stallworth can be on coverage units for punts and kicks as well. Given that talent and utility, I can’t see how Banks makes it above three of these four guys.