Each and every year, as we inevitably over think and over analyze the year's college football prospects, a player's "kick return" ability comes to loom larger than it should in the eyes of fans.
Many fans see a decent wide receiver, running back or corner, notice that he also returns kicks pretty well and automatically that player is some sort of dual threat or has tons of extra value because of that kick return ability.
While it may be true that the player has extra value because of his kick returns, I'm firmly convinced that during this time of mock drafts that "kick return" ability is far overrated and clouds the judgement of many a fan. I think this extra dimension of a player's game causes many mock drafters and fans to bump up no-name college free agents into "must have" post-draft signings; would-be undrafted free agents into fifth round picks; fourth rounders to third rounders; and so on.
I don't think you shouldn't get too excited about a college player's kick return ability. Here's why:
- Truly impactful kick returners are few and far between in the NFL;
- It's far easier to return kicks in college than in the pros; and,
- Successful NFL special teams are much more about the entire unit than one player.
I've got more, after the jump.
Two recent Chiefs come to mind when thinking about this - RB Dantrell Savage and WR Quinten Lawrence. Both players were below average prospects at their main positions but a few YouTube clips of Savage and Lawrence taking back punts and kickoffs to the house instantly convinced many of us we had special players on our hands.
Their performance in the NFL returning kicks has been the complete opposite of their time in college. Savage's longest punt return in two seasons in 19 yards. He does have one 59-yard kick off return but would that one kick off return be worth a draft pick? I think not.
Lawrence is similar in this regard. He has 16 NFL kick off returns under his belt and has a long of 29-yards to show for it. We haven't seen the YouTube fireworks we saw in college and I doubt we ever will based on what I've seen from Lawrence. Alas, Savage and Lawrence aren't special players and it's probably that "kick return" ability that's allowed to have so much patience with guys like them. We're waiting for that break out game, where one of them becomes Devin Hester or Josh Cribbs.
It isn't going to happen.
I'm not saying guys like Savage and Lawrence aren't good to have on your team. After all, Savage was an undrafted free agent and Lawrence was a sixth round pick. We didn't exactly waste valuable draft picks with these guys.
All I'm saying is that make sure you temper your enthusiasm for players who can also return kicks. I'm not saying there aren't special players out there who do have NFL ability to return kicks - Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs and Jeremy Maclin come to mind - just remember it's very unlikely that a college player's ability in this regard will translate into true success in the NFL. You've got too many factors - the change in the speed of the game from college to the pros and the variables within the special teams units themselves to name just a few - to firmly say this player or that player is going to be a dominant kick returner.
So, this is less an analysis piece and more about saying what I think a lot of you are thinking. Kick return ability is overrated this time of year and we shouldn't let ourselves get caught up in it.
What do you think? Is kick return ability overrated this time of year? Or is it a legit factor that should go into evaluating whether or not to draft a player?