There has been reports recently about the Steelers hoping to replace Antonio Brown as the teams primary punt returner. Many fans and news outlets are in favor of this, arguing that using Brown as a punt returner puts him at risk of injury and it isn’t worth the gamble.
“I don’t live in my fears” (Mike Tomlin)
A fact many tend to overlook is that many teams in the league used major players as punt returners in the 2015 season. Lets take a look:
- Patrick Peterson – Arizona – CB
- Emmanuel Sanders – Denver – WR
- Jarvis Landry – Miami – WR
- Tyler Lockett – Seattle – WR
- Travis Benjamin – Cleveland – WR
- Ted Ginn Jr. – Carolina – WR
- Tavon Austin – St. Louis/Los Angelas – WR
- Adam “Pacman” Jones – Cincinnati – CB
- Golden Tate – Detroit – WR
All of these players were the best, or one of the best at their positions for their teams in 2015, yet their coaches weren’t afraid to utilize them as punt returners because they knew they were the best guys for the job.
The Arizona Cardinals are probably the best example. Patrick Peterson is their #1 cornerback and arguably the best in the league, yet Bruce Arians continues to allow him to field punts. Like Tomlin, he doesn’t live in his fears and puts the best man on the field.
“Why would I relieve him of that (laughing)? No. It’s a way for him to impact the game. It’s something that he enjoys doing and is very, very good at doing. It’s an asset to us and one that we’ve gone to in the past and may continue to go to in the future.” (Mike Tomlin)
It’s clear as well Tomlin is a fan of Brown’s ability as a punt returner, and rightfully so. Throughout his career Brown has averaged roughly 10 yards per punt return. He’s also proven to be a smart decision maker – not taking unnecessary risks or putting himself in dangerous situations. Though he may kick a Brown or straddle a goal post every once in awhile, he hasn’t given us a reason to relieve him from this role.
As of now the main candidates to replace Brown are Eli Rogers and Demarcus Ayers. Both players have experience from returning punts in college and appear to be able to fill the role admirably, but surely neither are better than Brown. Their primary role in the punt return game should be as back-ups in case Brown gets injured. If fans recall, during the 2015 season when the Steelers used players that weren’t Brown as punt returners, the results weren’t pretty. Simpy, if Brown is the best punt returner, he should continue to return punts.