Ray-Ray McCloud is the Miguel Sano of baseball. Lots of big plays. Lots of negative ones. Hoping that baseball analogy lands. Tried to think of Pittsburgh Pirates players to compare to but that would require the Pirates to have actual talent. Which they do not.
Anyway. As only special teams coordinator Danny Smith can articulate, he praised the job McCloud’s done as the Steelers’ return man this season but recognized the feast/famine outcome of his game.
“Ray-Ray’s a great guy and Ray-Ray’s a special guy and Ray-Ray is very talented and Ray-Ray has had a good year and Ray-Ray adds a dimension and we really hadn’t had,” Smith told Chris Adamski and the Pittsburgh media in a rare press conference Thursday. “And I love him to death. Sometimes Ray-Ray’s problems are on Ray-Ray. Ray-Ray’s thirst is to hit that home run all the time. And a lot of time home run hitters lead the league in strikeouts. And I meet with Ray-Ray all the time on that and he’s great to work with. He’s dynamic. He’s tough. He works.”
For those scoring at home, that’s nine “Ray-Ray’s” in a 53 word span. Pronouns, Danny Smith. They’re our friends.
McCloud has been a breath of fresh air to the Steelers’ return units, boosting a kick return game that’s ranked in the bottom of the league for the previous three seasons. McCloud sports a healthy 23.1 average and Pittsburgh ranks 11th in that category league-wide. Here’s how they’ve ranked in KR average over the past four seasons.
2020 – 11th
2019 – 31st
2018 – 31st
2017 – 29th
From the basement to nearly cracking the top ten. Pittsburgh actually hung around the top five for the first half of the season. But McCloud and the Steelers’ return game has been quieter, both on kicks and punts, in recent weeks. Smith blamed that on the ebbs and flows of the season.
“I think you’ll see continued improvement as we go. But that’s how it goes in the NFL. You know, you’ve been covering the NFL for awhile and 17 weeks has its ups and downs and rounds and rounds, and we all fight through those things. So, I think you’ll see him play pretty well.”
Since Week Ten, McCloud’s averaged just 20.8 yards per kick return and 7.8 per punt return. Compare that through Weeks 1-9 when he averaged 26.2 each kick and 15 per punt.
The incomparable Danny Smith (Steelers special teams coach) on what Ray-Ray McCloud has brought to the return game pic.twitter.com/jalzDIMT4k
— Chris Adamski (@C_AdamskiTrib) January 7, 2021