There is little doubt that the Redskins return game last year needs a complete overhaul after averaging 6.4 yards per punt return (28th in the league) and 20 yards per kick return (tied for worst in the league). The question is what do the Redskins do to fix it? Do they rely on corner/return man Richard Crawford to handle the role? Can Chris Thompson be relied upon this season? Do they draft a couple of rookies to do the job? Or do they look to the free agent market for a fix?
Probably a lot of Redskins fans will want to count on Crawford to handle the duties, after he showed nice promise as a punt returner at the end of the 2012 season. The problem is that Crawford is coming back from an ACL tear and very well could be lacking some of his explosiveness that he had pre-injury. Also, ACL tears are notorious for setbacks or injury complications so relying on him is very risky. Chris Thompson is also coming off a torn labrum injury, but really he’s coming off three big injuries as he was lost his last two years of college as well with back and ACL injuries. Counting on him for anything is a stretch and he also didn’t perform well as a returner when given the opportunity. He’s probably a longshot to make the team anyways, so he is nothing more than a depth option for the return game. The Redskins could look to draft rookies, either among corners, receivers or running backs with returning ability, but it’s far from a guarantee that they will land someone who they like or is effective. The Redskins really need to look at adding a free agent to ensure that they have someone competent back there. The good news for them is that there are plenty of capable options out there on the market:
-Hester is probably the best return man in NFL history and still getting the job done even as he enters his 30’s. The Bears shut him down this year from helping on offense, but the Redskins could look to take advantage of his game-breaking ability in a package of plays. Hester is both a kick and punt returner and would give instant credibility to this special teams unit. His averages of over 14 yards per punt and 27 yards per kick-off return would be a huge boost to the starting field position of the Redskins.
-McCluster led the league in punt return yardage this year and returned two punts for TD’s (one against the Redskins). He didn’t really return kicks this season but has done it in the past and was a dynamic returner in college as well. McCluster is a tweener player who has both a 500 yard receiving season (this year) and a 500 yard rushing season in his career. The Redskins could view him as the slot replacement for Santana Moss and find plenty of creative ways to utilize him on offense. He maybe wouldn’t need to be a full return man, and maybe let Richard Crawford handle kick return duties (or someone else), but he has the skill if needed.
-Jones has always been a good return man, but these past two seasons he’s been amazing, coming up with big return after big return for the Ravens, including many that truely turned the game around for them. He’s both a kick-off and punt returner and is one of the more feared returners in the league. He’s solid as a wide receiver and does offer some height (though not a true red zone threat), so he can help the Redskins out in that department as well. He’s known as a bit of a deep threat so he can help the Redskins stretch teams vertically and open up some things underneath for guys like Garcon and Reed.
-A year ago the Redskins could have gotten the special teams ace and back-up slot receiver for basically league minimum, now after a 100 catch season Edelman’s price has gone up. Edelman is more of punt returner and all-around special teamer (though that part is likely to change), but has returned kicks in the past. Given that the Redskins aren’t likely to utilize him as much as a receiver, Edelman’s not likely much of an option, but he’s worth looking at what his price ends up being.
-Tate has developed into a solid number 2 receiver and is probably the 2nd best (Edelman) receiver in this group. He’s also a quality punt returner averaging 11.5 yards this year on over 50 punt returns. He will be more pricey because he’s a starting wide receiver, but the Redskins have a need there as well (though he’s probably not the best option) and could look to take care of two needs with one signing.
-Ginn was a bust of a first round pick when he came into the league, but has stuck around due to his return abilities. He has 6 career return TD’s (3 punt, 3 kick) and would be a instant threat for the Redskins special teams. He also had perhaps his best season as a receiver this year with the Panthers, where in a part time role he had 550 yards and 5 TD’s.
-Tate was with Gruden in Cincinnati and is probably the most likely to come in given his cost and familiarity with Gruden. In 5 years (and not full time return work during that time) Tate has 3 career return TD’s and is capable both as a punt and kick returner. He’s probably better as a kick returner, as he puts up more consistent higher averages (relative to the role) there. He’s not much of a receiver though (which is why he’s likely the cheapest), and the Redskins would need to keep a spot for him basically as just a returner. He’s not completely inept as a receiver (ala Brandon Banks) so he could be at least considered a back-up.