Dri Archer has never been so popular in Pittsburgh since he was released two weeks ago in order for the Pittsburgh Steelers to make room on their 53-man roster for their newest return man, the veteran Jacoby Jones. While Archer had yet to establish himself in about a season and a half, Jones has without question had his struggles thus far this year, both here and in San Diego, where he started the season.
It certainly did not help that he twice mishandled kickoffs during the Steelers’ past game, which forced him to take a touchback regardless of whether or not he would have anyway. Nor did his muffed punt on a fair catch attempt aid his cause.
In spite of the fact that he has made a career out of being a Pro Bowl returner, there are now inevitable questions being raised about his ability to perform even the basic tasks of his job, such as catching a football without dropping it first.
To be fair to Jones, this has likely not been his easiest season. After the cap-strapped Baltimore Ravens were unable to retain the return man on the four-year, $12-million contract they signed him to in 2014, he took his services out west, relocated cross-country with the San Diego Chargers.
The Chargers, typically a poor special teams unit, finished last season 22nd in kick returns and 16th in punt returns, and they hoped that Jones would single-handedly be an upgrade. He wasn’t, in part because he suffered an ankle injury early on that caused him to miss a couple of games.
A couple of weeks ago, obviously, the Chargers had given up, releasing him, and Mike Tomlin took the initiative to claim him off waivers. He played just two days after being signed, without even having found a place to live yet after another cross-country move. He said that he bought Penguins clothes in the store because he had nothing else yet.
In spite of whatever excuses there may be, Jones has not played well. But it may not be entirely fair to knock him for his ball security, even if 2014 was perhaps his worst in that department, fumbling three times on punt returns and once on a kick return.
Historically, Jones has not been a terrible performer by any means in terms of ball security. Over his career, the nine-year veteran has built a workload of 451 returns between kicks and punts, fumbling 14 times. That translates to a fumble just once every 32 returns.
Antonio Brown has 197 career returns to his name, fumbling seven times. That works out to a fumble in approximately every 28 returns. In that respect, Jones has been more stable over the length of his career.
And seven of his 14 fumbles came in his first three seasons. He has just seven fumbles in his last 309 returns dating back to 2010, Brown’s rookie year. That’s a fumble every 44 returns. Just in case you were wondering, Devin Hester’s 549 career returns have produced 31 fumbles, or one every 18 returns or so.