The San Diego Chargers signed former Denver Broncos punt returner/wide receiver Eddie Royal to a three-year deal worth $13.5 million last year. Royal’s 11.1 yards per punt return rank sixth among active players, but he missed six games last season and averaged a career low 5.3 yards per punt return with no touchdowns.
Royal led San Diego with 12 returns last season and San Diego ranked 15th in the NFL with an average of 9.7 yards per punt return. This was mostly due to the emergence of Micheal Spurlock, who averaged 17.1 yards per punt return to go with one TD in 11 returns, but San Diego lost Spurlock in free agency to the Detroit Lions.
San Diego chose former California Golden Bears wide receiver/returner Keenan Allen in round three of this year’s draft. Allen averaged 14.1 yards per punt return on 15 returns to go along with a TD for California last season. There is no guarantee that Allen will translate this success to the pros, but if Royal struggles, Allen should get some opportunities to return punts for the Lightning Bolts.
Royal suffered a hamstring injury last season which contributed to his struggles. He averaged 10 yards per return in 2008, which was his least productive season before last year, so he should bounce back in 2013.
Allen should see some playing time at wide receiver this season, but choosing him in the draft was done to add depth and for insurance purposes this year because San Diego has injury-prone receivers.
San Diego’s coaching staff has options to improve on punt returns with the addition of Allen to go along with a healthy Royal. San Diego ranked 22nd with an average of 8.5 yards per punt return in 2011 and were 15th last year, so there has been attention to detail in paid order to improve on this aspect of the game.