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The Optimist’s Take – Returns For Investment

While the Pittsburgh Steelers may have gained some tangible evidence of improvement, improving their win total by three games and hosting a playoff game as a division champion for the first time in four seasons, there is no doubt that the team is far from a finished product.

No team, of course, is a finished product in the offseason. Every team loses players to free agency and retirement, and replaces them through the same free agency process, as well as the draft.

With all of the change that occurs during the offseason, it’s often difficult to predict how a particular team might fare. They may wind up holding the Lombardi trophy or the first overall draft pick when all is said and done.

In order to gain a better feel for not only the issues facing the team this year, but how those issues might play out, it’s useful to take the devil’s advocate approach. This is the optimistic side of the coin.

Question: Would it be wise for the Steelers to invest in a kick returner this season?

The last time the Steelers had an above average kick return game was the last time the Steelers actually invested in a kick return specialist. Stefan Logan made the roster in 2009, if I recall correctly, actually as a running back, but was clearly the team’s kick returner more than anything.

That season, he returned 55 kickoffs for 1466 yards, averaging 26.7 yards per return, with a long of 83, though he did not bring one all the way back for a score in the regular season (he did so in the preseason finale, which helped get him on the roster). 43 of his returns gained at least 20 yards, and four of them went beyond 40, though he did fumble once. He also averaged 9.3 yards on 30 punt returns.

The Steelers in 2014 averaged a full five yards less per kick return than Logan did in 2009. Imagine starting every single drive of your season five yards further back. Or half of your drives 10 yards back. No matter how they sort out, that yardage differential adds up, and hinders both your offense and the field position battle.

Even the best performer of that group of returners from last season, Markus Wheaton, was only a little more than pedestrian. Adding a dynamic returner could be of tremendous help to the Steelers, who have too often ignored the third phase of the game.

They could try drafting one, but they have already toyed with that…most recently with Dri Archer, who fell on his face in that role in his rookie season. There’s no telling whether or not he will develop as a returner in his second year.

The Steelers are likely to release Lance Moore, which will free up some money that was already allocated to the wide receiver position. That money can be used to try to sign somebody like Jacoby Jones, if not Jones himself, who can consistently put the offense in good field position.

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