For quite some time now, there’s been no such thing as "special teams" on the Washington Redskins. If anything, a more fitting name for Washington’s third unit is “as long as things don’t go catastrophically wrong — as they often do — then it’s a great success” teams. In fact, the group should have one of those “__ days since our last accident” boards in their meeting room.
A big reason for the issues for this part of the franchise has been the lack of even a somewhat threatening punt returner. Everyone from Antwaan Randle El to Andre Roberts -- surprisingly, he had no problem catching punts --, Brandon Banks to James Thrash, Santana Moss to DeSean Jackson (hey, remember that one tim— eh, never mind) as well as a few others have struggled to do anything of note when given the opportunity. And now, Jamison Crowder is slated to enter his second season with the job, after a dreadful debut.
Should the coaching staff give the receiver another year as a returner or would exploring other options be smarter? Let’s break down some pros and cons of keeping Crowder atop the position’s depth chart.
- At Duke, Crowder was an ace in this facet of the game. With the Blue Devils, he took back 65 punts in four years at a clip of 13.4 yards per. He also had five house calls combined as a junior and senior, when he was the main guy. That’s why it was so bizarre that he was, by some measures, the worst returner in the NFL as a rookie. One would assume, however, that 2015 was an anomaly considering how dangerous he was in college. Going from an average of 13.4 yard to less than 6.0 is a drastic change — a change that should even out in 2016 and regress toward the mean. Crowder has spoken plenty this offseason about getting things right with his second duty. Giving him another season may lead to him figuring things out and becoming a star again.
- Despite him not ripping off many memorable plays, Crowder did gain some valuable experience at the spot. Handing over the keys to someone else -- think Chris Thompson or Rashad Ross, for example -- who haven’t done it as much at the pro level may do more harm than good. Sure, five-yard returns aren’t exactly game-changing, but it sure beats watching a newbie botch a few kicks and cost a few games. We saw what happened with Jackson last year against the Cowboys after he hadn’t been asked to handle a punt in quite some time — and he’s used to things back there. If that can happen to someone with as much understanding as Jackson, inserting a raw returner could have disastrous consequences.
- The sophomore matters to the offense. Yes, the Redskins have an immense amount of depth at receiver with Jackson, Pierre Garcon, Josh Doctson and Jordan Reed, but Crowder should still be a favorite target of Kirk Cousins like he was last year. The two demonstrated throughout minicamp that their great chemistry is continuing to develop, and the wideout was open more consistently than a highway rest stop. So, a con of having him line up deep and catch punts would be exposing him to avoidable injury. Yes, every time Crowder takes a snap, he risks getting hurt. But on special teams, there will be gunners running at him at full speed five or six times a contest, and he’s not exactly a huge player to begin with. Perhaps using a receiver with less offensive responsibility or a corner who doesn't see much time on defense would be more intelligent.
- Are their superior alternatives on the roster? Safety Will Blackmon has three touchdowns and a career average of 8.8 yards per attempt, for instance. Maybe Crowder just isn’t fit for the gig in the NFL. Maybe head coach Jay Gruden doesn’t need to be patient and can shake things up now. The Burgundy and Gold need to stop settling for average returners. It’s likely too early to label Crowder as one at this point, but if he doesn’t show any improvement, another route needs to be taken. It’s about time the team found someone who makes punt returns worth watching instead of someone who gives the fans a chance to refill their beer or check the score of another game.
Follow Peter Hailey on Twitter at @barelyin.
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