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|
|Ted Ginn, Jr.||9.6||11.2|
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.