It has been a long time since the Pittsburgh Steelers last had a return man that they could rely upon for multiple years—at least one that they didn’t desperately want to remove from the job. Wide receiver Antonio Brown may go down as one of the best return men they have had in team history, but they have been trying to take the job away from him for almost as long as he has had it.
Brown was a Pro Bowl return man in 2011. But he also broke out as an offensive contributor that year with 1000 receiving yards. They drafted Chris Rainey the following year to take over the kicking duties. Then there was Dri Archer, and Jacoby Jones. Eli Roger got a couple of years trying to keep Brown off of punt return duties.
Is Ryan Switzer finally going to be the player that keeps Brown off of return duties for good? Is he going to be the return man that is going to have a years-long career, that actually provides the team with an asset in that role while not exposing a major piece of their offense or defense to the added threat of injury?
I don’t know, but I guess we’re going to find out. While he didn’t put up Pro Bowl-worthy return numbers last season—JuJu Smith-Schuster had a better kick return average—he does have the ability to be a very positive contributor in that area of the game, which he got to demonstrate on a couple of returns during his rookie season last year.
I hope that it doesn’t take too long before we get to hear special teams coach Danny Smith talk about Switzer, because you can probably bet that he had his input on making this move. They evaluated him a fair bit coming out of school a year ago, and I would bet that Smith had him ranked pretty high on his list of potential returners in the class.
Despite Smith’s reputation for being a quality special teams coach, his return units have too often lagged behind, especially in kick returns. Brown has obviously been a good returner, but even his game has been less impressive as time has gone on and he has become more conservative with which punts he fields.
The Steelers clearly think it’s worth taking a shot. Not that it cost them much, merely flipping late-round picks. The nice thing about this trade is that they have Switzer under contract for three years on his rookie deal, so they will have the opportunity to let him grow and develop with the team, and that goes for both the offense and defense.