For the past several seasons, the New England Patriots have struggled mightily in the kick return game. Since Brandon Tate had two touchdowns with 1,057 return yards on 41 returns and a 25.8 yard average for the team in 2010, production in this area has gone from a strength to a major weakness.
In the years since his departure, the Patriots have patched their return game with a revolving door of names such as Devin Mccourty, Matthew Slater, Julian Edelman, Danny Woodhead, Wes Welker and most recently, LeGarrette Blount.
To say the least, the team has missed Tate’s presence. They have averaged less than 21 yards per return with one measly touchdown since he signed with the Cincinnati Bengals in 2011.
In fact, the Patriots have ranked near the bottom of the league in kick return yardage since that time. They ranked 25th last season with a 21.2 yards per return average, and 29th in 2011 with a 21.4-yard average.
They are trending downward so far this year with a 20-yard kick return average in the first two games of 2013, which is troubling to say the least if you are a Patriots fan.
This is where rookie receiver Josh Boyce comes into play. Boyce is an explosive athlete known for his blazing speed. He ran a 40 time of under 4.4 seconds with a toe injury at the combine, and has the explosiveness to get behind the defense with ease.
Although he only had three kick returns all in 2012 during his time at TCU, he had 93 total yards, a 31-yard average on those returns.
Additionally, the rookie was the Patriots’ leader in kick-return yardage during the preseason, besting veteran kick returner Leon Washington with a mark of 24.3 yards per return compared to Washington’s 22-yard average.
With Washington’s injury problems so far in 2013, it is fair to wonder whether his best days are behind him.
With that being the case, the Patriots have nothing to lose throwing Boyce out there to return kicks. Blount is too slow to be returning kicks and he has been largely ineffective in that role thus far, and nobody else on the roster has the speed and quickness that Boyce possesses.
With Boyce’s explosiveness and his ability to take any play to the house, the Patriots would be smart to make him the primary kick returner moving forward. In doing so, they might finally have the productive returner that has eluded them since Tate left town.