In Matt Canada’s offense, Ray-Ray McCloud’s role as a gadget player may expand. And if JuJu Smith-Schuster gets his wish, McCloud will be playing more in the slot this season. But McCloud’s primarily role, the one that got him on the Steelers’ roster in the first place, was as the team’s starting kick and punt returner. And all the data says he had a successful season.
Former GM Mike Tannebaum tweeted out a list of the most missed tackles forced/broken on punts and kicks last season. McCloud had the second most only trailing the Titans’ Kalif Raymond. Here’s the top five.
According to our Josh Carney’s missed/broken tackles report, McCloud forced 31 misses last season. Of those, 23 came on special teams. With 57 total returns, that averages out to 0.40 broken tackles per return, nearly one every other chance.
McCloud finished 2020 averaging 23.1 yards per kick return and 10.3 yards per punt return. The kick return average was ninth out of 13 qualifiers, on the low end but still an improvement in Pittsburgh. McCloud had a strong start to the year before fading down the stretch. Over his first five games, he averaged 27.5 yards per kick return. For the rest of the season, his average fell to 21.3.
His punt return average was fourth best in the league and second-highest of any returner who didn’t find the end zone.
McCloud was a late camp add last summer but reportedly impressed during practices, including a kick return touchdown during one of the team’s sessions, which was live with full tackling, something unheard of for any special teams drill. But with no preseason, the Steelers took the risk to get the best evaluation of their group. McCloud beat out Ryan Switzer for a roster spot and quickly took over Diontae Johnson’s role on the punt team.
Assuming he makes the team again (there’s a high probability of that), McCloud will be the team’s starting return man again. If he can become the Steelers’ leading kick returner in 2021, he’ll be the team’s first leading kick returner in consecutive years for the first time since Rod Woodson in 1992-1993. An incredibly long streak that has a good chance to end this year.