Royal averaged 12 yards per punt return before the 2012 NFL season, which ranked third among active players trailing only Devin Hester and Julian Edelman. Royal led San Diego with 12 punt returns and averaged a career low 5.3 yards per return in 2012 which ranked last on the roster.
San Diego’s 9.7 yards per punt return ranked 15th out of 32 teams and improved due to Micheal Spurlock who averaged 17 yards per punt return on 11 returns. Spurlock left as a free agent and signed with the Detroit Lions, so San Diego needs Royal to have a bounce back season in 2013.
Another reason why San Diego needs Royal to play better in 2013 is due to his salary cap hit which ranks seventh on the roster. If Royal struggles, former California Golden Bears WR/returner Keenan Allen should be an option. There is no guarantee that success in college will lead to success in the NFL, but Allen averaged 14 yards per punt return last year with Cal, so he could be worth taking a look at this season.
Royal is capable of improving on his dreadful season because prior to 2012, his worst year came in 2008 when he averaged 10 yards per return as a rookie. Royal’s career average of 11 yards per punt return still ranks sixth among active players, so last year could have been just a setback.
San Diego obviously had their problems beyond Royal’s struggles last year because they had a 7-9 record, which was the first time they had a losing record in a season since 2003.
If Royal returns to form, it will lead to better field position at times for an offense that ranked 20th in points per game and 30th in yards per play last season.