The Pittsburgh Steelers have, believe it or not, had among the more successful kick return games so far through the early goings of the 2020 season, and that has largely been thanks to third-year wide receiver Ray-Ray McCloud, whom the team picked up on August 21. He made the team and earned the kick return job, and has been successful in that role so far.
As it currently stands, the Steelers as a team are averaging 27 yards per kick return, totaling 216 return yards on eight returns, with that average representing the sixth-best mark in the league through the first five weeks of the 2020 season.
McCloud has seven of those returns for 192 yards, with a 27.4-yard average. His 49-yard kick return back in week two is the third-longest kick return so far this season, and the longest that wasn’t returned for a touchdown, as both the Indianapolis Colts and the Baltimore Ravens recent had kick return touchdowns. The Miami Dolphins somehow have not even had a 20-yard return yet, and no, they don’t have Ryan Switzer.
Even when McCloud has been held short of the 25-yard line this season, he has often looked threatening in getting there, as though he only needs just a sliver of daylight or half a block more and he could go the distance.
“It’s always about being patient”, he told reporters in waiting for that one big return that he has been hoping for since entering the NFL. “Just going every day to work. It’ll come. And when it comes, I’m gonna want more and more and more. When it comes—I think it’s gonna come”.
The Steelers have not had a kick return longer than 35 yards since JuJu Smith-Schuster’s 96-yard touchdown return at the end of the 2017 season until McCloud entered the picture. In fact, outside of Smith-Schuster’s, McCloud’s 49-yard return is the longest the team has had since 2013, when Chris Rainey had a 68-yard return. Though now largely forgotten, Rainey’s 1035-yard, 26.5-yard average as a kick returner that season is one of the best years for a return man the Steelers have ever had.
McCloud probably won’t get enough opportunities to hit 1000 kick return yards. Rainey returned 39 kicks. These days, you’re as likely to have only one shot at a return in a game as you are two, let alone three or more per game.
But he is reminding us that having a good kick returner can actually be an asset, and I don’t think anybody would be surprised if we do see him break one and take it for the distance at some point this season. He’s shown just about every trait you would want in a return man to date.