Coming out of the bye week and suffering from a season-long lack of production on kickoffs, the New England Patriots activated fourth-round pick Josh Boyce and put him back to return against the Carolina Panthers. The only thing was Boyce did not get to take any kicks out of the end zone.
Nevertheless, look to see the TCU product awaiting Matt Prater‘s kicks Sunday night versus the Denver Broncos. Boyce has only played in five games this season but his trials as a kick returner could give the squad an unexpected burst of productivity. In college, Boyce returned three kicks for an average of 31.0 yards a piece, which is much better than what the Patriots have averaged this year. New England is 31st in the NFL in kick return average at 20.1 yards per return, well behind the top spot held by the Green Bay Packers at 28.6.
Going into the Week 11 matchup with the Panthers, the Patriots seemed content with tossing LeGarrette Blount out for kickoff return duty and had yet to reap any rewards. Watching Blount on kickoffs does not make any opposing special teams coach nervous. He very well may be the slowest running back in the league at a bruising 6-1, 245 pound. Putting him at kickoffs makes you think Bill Belichick may be mocking the league’s new kickoff rules. As one of 18 players in the NFL who are qualified to lead the league in kickoff return average (one return per team’s game played), Blount is 16th at 23.3 yards per return. Minnesota Vickings‘ Cordarrelle Patterson is first at 34.4 yards per return with two touchdowns.
Blount clearly has not worked out and neither have any other returnees in New England. Matt Slater is the special teams captain and has one return for ten measly yards. Devin McCourty, another captain, has four returns for an average of 20.3 yards and Leon Washington, a former all-Pro, earned a roster spot basically for returning kicks, but has only been active for two games.
So nothing yet has worked out for New England’s returners and Boyce could be the guy with the answers. He has not seen the production at wide receiver that other rookie wide outs Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Tompkins have, but he still can impact the season. His speed (4th among wide receivers at the 2013 NFL Combine) should mean more yards on kickoffs and less field for Tom Brady and the offense to cover.