Eagles Cannot Overlook Importance of Kick Returner

Written By Bob Cunningham On Thursday, January 27, 2011
I go onto Philly.com every day for one reason, and one reason only -- to read Sheil Kapadia's Moving the Chains blog.

Unlike the other writers of the site who do nothing but try to stir the pot with their half-wit opinions and made-up sources, Kapadia looks at real stats and attempts to dissect them.

Most recently Kapadia took a look at the Eagles' special teams stats and where they need to improve. What he discovered is that David Akers had a good year as we suspected, the coverage units were better than expected, punt returns were middle of the pack, and kickoff returns were atrocious.

By "atrocious" I mean the third-worst in the league.

Over the course of the season the Eagles had Ellis Hobbs, Jorrick Calvin, Gerard Lawson, and Chad Hall returning kicks with a guy like Jeremy Maclin getting a couple shots as well. None of them were able to break the big return on a consistent basis, and Calvin was the only one who got close to endzone when he had a return for a touchdown called back because of a penalty.

Unlike the debacle with the punt returners in 2007, this one doesn't fall on Andy Reid's shoulders. Hobbs has always been a pretty good return man, but once he went down the team had no answer. Calvin looked good and explosive on a couple returns, but the blocking wasn't very good and not Calvin nor any of the other guys were skilled enough as returners to make up for it.

Like everything else, the kick return game will improve once the blocking improves. But until then, the team should go out and get a guy who can make up for sub-par blocking with great field vision and the speed to run past the coverage team.

Whether that's in free agency or the draft, it's a position that cannot be overlooked.

The number one guy on my wish list (outside of Devin Hester, of course) is New York Jets' everyman Brad Smith. Not only is he one of the best returners in the game, but he's also a viable option at wide receiver as well as a guy who can be very dangerous in a Wildcat role.

I like Riley Cooper, but I would like Smith a lot more as the fourth receiver behind DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and Jason Avant. Smith also gives them a great option as the third receiver should Jackson go down again.

Outside of that, pickings are going to be slim in free agency. It might be worth a late-round flier to grab the best return man on the board once the team feels they've addressed the linebackers, secondary, and offensive line.

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