When I wrote the two position battles articles last week, it became clear pretty quickly in the comments that a lot of you guys are interested in who's going to be returning kicks for the Chargers this fall. And with good reason.
The 2015 San Diego Chargers were 26th in the league in kick return average at just over 20 yards per return, and dead last in punt return average at a pathetic 4.2 yards per return. That lack of production out of your return team handicaps your offense with bad starting position and makes it extremely difficult to keep trying to make an underproducing running game work.
So what will be different this year?
Well first, the team fired their Special Teams Coordinator and promoted the assistant, Craig Aukerman, to take over. So hopefully some new blood will help there. As far as who is going to return the kicks and punts?
The only players on the roster that have Kick Return experience AS Chargers are Danny Woodhead, Branden Oliver, and Javontee Herndon. Ideally, you don't want to have to put Danny back there. Javontee looked decent last year, but Bo was actually the best returner on the team last season, averaging 24.6 yards per return, and due to his contributions on offense, is better value to keep on the roster as an RB3 over Herndon as a WR6. However...
Returning punts, the only players who have more than one return as a Charger are Herndon and Keenan Allen. If it was down to these two, there isn't even a question. Put Herndon back there. Coming back from a serious internal injury, you don't want to risk your team's best receiver to return punts.
Tom Telesco went out and signed speedy Receiver/Return man Travis Benjamin this offseason. Benjamin has much more experience, and success, at returning punts. As a punt returner, his career average is 12.6 yards per return and has returned a punt for a touchdown in thre3 of the four seasons since 2012. The Chargers as a team have not returned a punt for a touchdown since Michael Spurlock did it in 2012. I was very much against the idea of Benjamin returning punts at first because I feared the Chargers' poor injury luck would doom him. But the more I look at it (and the more you guys yelled at me about it in the comments), I see that Benjamin is a very skilled punt returner who has had success doing it for a few years now and can obviously take care of himself. He will give them better field position than any of the other options.
The team also added a UDFA WR/KR from Marshall named DeAndre Reaves. Reaves faces an uphill battle to make the team, but if he produces in training camp and the preseason the way he did at Marshall, they just might consider trying to squeeze him onto the active roster. In the last two seasons at Marshall Reaves averaged 29.6 yards per return and brought three back for touchdowns. Yes, this was at Marshall, but that is still extremely impressive. He also helps himself with some decent punt return experience and the fact that he had 705 receiving yards and four receiving TD's last year.
And there you have it. Personally, I think it will be Benjamin returning punts and Herndon/Bo back returning kickoffs. But you never know; that Reaves kid could make an impression. Who do you guys like to return kicks/punts this year?