Who’s Going to Return Punts?
Sep 2, 2011; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks defensive back Walter Thurmond (28) jumps on the ball after fumbling it during a punt return in the 2nd half of the preseason game against the Oakland Raiders at Centurylink Field. Seattle defeated Oakland 20-3. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports
In the grand scheme of things, the 2013 Seahawks are a team without many question marks. Most of the starting lineup is set and most of the starting lineup is good. Any serious concerns at this point are related to injury rather than any lack of talent. However, at this time of year there is always something to decide and the departure of Leon Washington, necessitated by the acquisition of Percy Harvin, has left some uncertainty in the return game. As soon as Harvin is healthy he will take over kick return duties but right now Jeremy Lane has emerged as a surprise choice for that role. I’d like to see Christine Michael given a fair crack at the job, as well.
What is of more interest to me is who is going to return punts given that punt returning was never going to be Harvin’s duty anyway. In this article I’ll give a rundown of the top candidates and a little bit of information on their returning track records to see who the best choice might be.
Candidate #1: Golden Tate
Pros: Tate is explosive. With Harvin out he is arguably the best open field threat on this team. He’s returned punts for the Seahawks before with some success. He also has a lot of college experience returning punts. Because Tate is guaranteed a spot on this roster, having him return punts means the Seahawks don’t have to keep an additional fringe player who doesn’t have any other utility.
Cons: Tate is a valuable starter and exposing him to possible injury could be unwise. As a result of his value to the team as a wide receiver you would probably need to ask him to be conservative and call for a lot of fair catches.
Candidate #2: Perez Ashford
Pros: In the interest of full disclosure I’ll say that I don’t know much about Ashford, but the Seahawks thought he was worth a waiver claim which is something. He was also given two return opportunities in the preseason opener which suggests legitimate interest on the part of the team. Ashford has some experience returning punts in college.
Cons: He isn’t a burner that runs a 4.5 forty and he’s an undrafted rookie so expectations shouldn’t be too high. He only returned 23 punts in his college career.
Candidate #3: Walter Thurmond
Pros: Great athlete. Good returner in college (mainly kickoffs). Not an essential player on defense but not a waste of a roster spot either.
Cons: Walter is a pretty fragile guy to put in harm’s way.
Candidate 4: Will Blackmon
Pros: The only truly proven and effective NFL punt returner here.
Cons: Not a spring chicken for a returner (28), hasn’t played in the NFL since 2011, doesn’t have other value.
Given we have the basic candidates (secret formula to finding candidates: everyone who returned a punt in the preseason opener + Golden Tate) let’s see their track records.
NCAA Punt Returning Stats
Yards per Return
NFL Punt Returning Stats
Yards per Return
There is reason to believe that Golden Tate would be the most effective punt returner on this team. However, he seems too important to risk in the wake of Harvin’s injury. Will Blackmon has been solid in the role before but he is probably on his way down. I also have a hunch that the Seahawks don’t want to keep a pure return man on the roster. That would also rule out Ashford, although I have to say that I don’t know enough about him to rule him out completely. If it were up to me I would go with Walter Thurmond, he’s shown some aptitude in the past and is good enough to make the roster on the merit of his defensive skills but not too good to be afraid to risk. As training camp continues this is yet another positional battle to keep a close eye on as it could be the a one or two touchdown difference over the course of the season.