Over the past few seasons, one of the worst areas on the Philadelphia Eagles has been the position of kick returner.
It hasn’t received near the hype that linebacker or safety has, and rightfully so, but the truth is that the Eagles’ kick returners have been just dreadful recently.
The team hit rock bottom in 2011, as the Eagles averaged just 20.9 yards per kick return, with a long of 33 yards.
Rookie running back Dion Lewis handled the majority of the kick return duties, and was very consistent. Consistently subpar, that is. Lewis averaged 21.6 yards on 31 returns and never came close to breaking a return for a long gain.
Cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie showed some promise, averaging 26 yards on two returns before injuring his ankle and missing three games late in the season.
And wide receiver Chad Hall and running back Ronnie Brown failed to impress in limited opportunities.
Heading into 2012, the Eagles need a kick returner who can at least occasionally break off a long return.
Thankfully, the team has a number of players who will be able to do just that.
Cornerback Brandon Boykin was drafted by the Eagles in the fourth round and will likely serve as the team’s slot corner. He won the Paul Hornung Award as the nation’s most versatile player in 2011, and returned four kicks for touchdowns during his college career.
Another option is rookie free agent wide receiver, Damaris Johnson, who enjoyed a record-setting career at Tulsa. Johnson broke the NCAA career record for total kickoff return yardage (3417 yards), including two touchdowns. Johnson has a lot of work to do to secure a spot on the roster for the 2012 Eagles, and a solid showing in special teams play at camp could go a long way.
The third option is wide receiver Mardy Gilyard, who was signed by the Eagles following the 2011 season. A fourth round pick of the St. Louis Rams in 2010, Gilyard didn’t play in the NFL in 2011 after the Rams released him before the start of the season. He was signed to a futures contract by the Eagles in January 2012. He has 16 career kick returns for 356 yards, an average of 22.3 yards per return. Those numbers are just average, but Gilyard could easily find himself as the team’s week one kick returner if he outshines Boykin and Johnson in camp.
Other options include rookie free agent cornerback Cliff Harris from Oregon, although he was mostly a punt returner during his college career, as well as rookie free agent running back Chris Polk, who returned kicks as a freshman at Washington in 2009.
And if worst comes to worst, the Eagles can default back to Lewis for another year. Hopefully a full offseason and a year of maturity and experience will make him a more efficient kick returner.