According to Jeff McLane of The Philadelphia Inquirer, the Philadelphia Eagles have named DeSean Jackson as their punt returner for the 2011 season. Jeremy Maclin is listed as the backup.
This comes after a training camp and preseason that saw many try but none succeed as the punt returner.
Wide receivers Chad Hall, Sinorice Moss, and Johnnie Lee Higgins all could have earned a roster spot had they shown an ability to return punts. But Hall mishandled two in the final preseason game, Moss was injured for a lot of camp, and Higgins, an All-Pro as a returner in 2008, showed nothing.
Rookie running back Dion Lewis has impressed and many believe that he will be the team’s kick returner heading into the regular season. But the position of kick returner may now be the most overrated position in the NFL, because of the new kickoff rule.
Punt returner though? That’s still important. After all, DeSean Jackson won a game against the New York Giants last season by taking a punt 65 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game.
Ray Didinger of CSNPhilly wrote an excellent piece about the importance of a punt returner. In 2007, the Eagles didn’t bother signing an experienced punt returner and the combination of Greg Lewis and JR Reed lost two fumbles and cost the Eagles a victory in the season opener against Green Bay.
When you throw that into the equation, it may not be such a bad move for Andy Reid to use DeSean as the punt returner. After all, when you have one of the most dangerous return men in the game, you might as well use him. The upgrade from Hall/Moss/Higgins to DeSean is enormous, and if it wins the Eagles another game in 2011, it was all worth it.
Let’s just hope that DeSean doesn’t get hurt returning punts. The reward is higher than the risk though.