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: Will Knile Davis be the Steelers’ primary kick returner in 2017?
While he is by position, of course, a running back, it would seem reasonably likely that one of the main reason that the Steelers signed former Chief Knile Davis relatively early in free agency is because he has a quality resume as a return man—better than his body of work as a runner.
The first thing Davis has to accomplish, of course, is making the 53-man roster, which, while perhaps likely, is not guaranteed. While they have not re-signed DeAngelo Williams, it is not impossible that they might still do so, and they also drafted James Conner in the third round, while they retain Fitzgerald Toussaint, who spent all of last year on the roster.
Obviously, though, making the roster and being the kick returner will go hand-in-hand. The better he shows in that role, the more likely he is to make the team. He has a career 26.8-yard kick return average with two touchdowns, though he averaged just 20.7 yards on 10 returns last season in the process of losing his job to Tyreek Hill.
On the one hand, the Steelers simply have not had a good kick returner since they took Antonio Brown off that assignment after the 2011 season. They have primarily seemed to use wide receivers with little or no prior experience doing it. So it might seem that his competition for the job may not be very steep.
But he has gotten less productive as a returner with each passing season—he averaged 25.1 yards on 24 returns in 2015—and there are other players on this roster who will be using the opportunity to return kicks to cling to the roster.
The likeliest candidate in that regard will be wide receiver Sammie Coates, who spent most of the season as the kick returner, yet teams kept kicking to Toussaint instead. But, of course, Davis could replace Toussaint with Coates also lined up out deep, if they have a two-even look in the back as they did last season.
Which side do you lean closer toward?