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Jalen Saunders: Do Punt Returners Produce as Rookies?

Evan Habeeb

I think in order for the fourth round selection to pay off, Jalen Saunders is going to have to become a game-breaking punt returner. He probably isn't big enough to have more than a niche role in the offense. A fourth round is a fairly heavy investment in a punt returner, unless he is a big impact guy.

Is punt returner a slow transition position? My guess is that it isn't. This is about making plays, reading blocks, and making people miss. Those are skills that are displayed in college. I decided to take a closer look, though.

Should we expect Saunders to produce as a rookie? To try and get more of a grasp, I decided to look at the rookie seasons of players who:

A. are active

B. have a career punt return average of at least 10 yards

C. returned at least 10 punts as rookies

Here is what I found.

Name Rookie Average Career Average
Devin Hester 12.8 12.2
Dexter McCluster 15.5 12.0
Ted Ginn, Jr. 9.6 11.2
Eddie Royal 10.0 10.7
Danny Amendola
11.6 10.5
Adam Jones
9.4 10.4
Patrick Peterson
15.9 10.3
Davone Bess
11.0 10.2
Jacoby Jones
9.5 10.1
Leon Washington
7.5 10.0

Half of these guys actually had higher return rates as rookies than their career average. Of those who didn't, only two had an average less than a yard under their career rate.

Good punt returners seem to usually produce as rookies. It's probably reasonable to hope Saunders does. There doesn't seem to be a big learning curve. Here's hoping Saunders does the job.