Devil’s Advocate: Added Kick To Return Game

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Have the Steelers improved their kick return game over recent seasons?

It hasn’t really been much of a secret that the Steelers have lacked a dynamic kick returner since they took Antonio Brown off of that job half a decade ago. What has followed in the wake of that decision has been a caravan of  underwhelming performances from the likes of Felix Jones, Markus Wheaton, and Fitzgerald Toussaint.

So one would say that it’s hard for them to go anywhere but up, and at least on paper it would seem that they have added players who may be capable of strengthening that unit. I think it should pretty much go without saying that Knile Davis is a more desirable option to serve as the up back than is Toussaint, for example.

While he only has a handful of returns over the past couple of seasons, Davis holds a career average of 26.8, which is vastly more than the Steelers have been getting lately, so even if he is one of two options back there, that would seem like an upgrade.

Yet it did only have six returns of 40 yards or more in his career on 73 returns, and you might like to see more than that. The Steelers have also brought in a couple of rookies who have some experience in returns, though none of them substantial, and if so, leaning more toward punt returns than kick returns.

The bigger issue than the actual return man may still prove to be, however, the blocking up front, and we have taken a look at that issue a few times over the course of the past couple of years. While it is often the case that the returner’s vision prevents him from hitting the right lane, many other times the alley closes due to a missed assignment in the blocking. That has to be fixed before success in the return game can come.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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