With Tuesday’s release of return man Rashad “The Rocket” Ross, a speedster brought in by the Buffalo Bills to challenge for return duties, it is clear that head coach Sean McDermott has total confidence in wide receiver/return specialist Brandon Tate to handle punt and kickoff return duties in 2017.
Tate led the Bills in both kickoff return yards and punt return yards in 2016. But despite proving himself as an asset on special teams, McDermott and the Bills signed Ross, a fourth-year wide receiver/return specialist out of Arizona State who earned his nickname thanks to his blistering speed (4.42 40 time) as competition for the returner role.
During Buffalo’s first three preseason games, Tate out-performed Ross on kickoff returns (averaging 23.8 yards per return on four run-backs compared to Ross’ 18.2 yards/return) and punt returns (4.2 yards/return for Tate compared to -1 yards/return for Ross).
With the release of Ross, Tate is listed atop the team’s official depth chart as the No. 1 punt and kickoff returner, with Walter Powell, a third-year veteran, listed as the official backup. Powell is suspended to begin the season.
Tate averaged 22.8 yards on 29 kickoff returns (with a season-best return of 45 yards), and averaged 11.6 yards on 26 punt returns last year, including an electrifying 43-yard return during Buffalo’s 28-21 win over Jacksonville on Nov. 28.
In his ninth season out of North Carolina, Tate has been a threat in the return game during stints with the Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, and New England Patriots. During his career, he has averaged 24.4 yards per kickoff return (219 returns). As a member of the Patriots in 2010, Tate eclipsed 1000 kickoff return yards, returning a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns while averaging 25.8 yards per return on 41 run-backs.
As a team, the 2016 Bills ranked sixth in the NFL in average punt return (11.2 yards per return), and were 19th in kickoff return average (21.3 yards per return).