In 2018, the Buffalo Bills used a combination of Ray-Ray McCloud III, Isaiah McKenzie, and Marcus Murphy to handle a majority of their punt and kickoff returns. When McCloud was released after multiple fumbles, even starting safety Micah Hyde ended up fielding punts. Obviously, using such an important part of the defense to handle punt return duties isn’t ideal, so the Bills looked to upgrade their return game in 2019.
That aim was a success, as their designated return man made the Pro Bowl in 2019, albeit as an alternate when Mecole Hardman of the Kansas City Chiefs couldn’t participate due to his team’s involvement in the Super Bowl. Prior to last season, the Bills hadn’t had a player make the Pro Bowl as a return man since 2005, when Terrance McGee made his lone Pro Bowl appearance as a returner.
In our second installment of “91 players in 91 days,” we profile a wide receiver who makes his money returning kicks.
Name: Andre Roberts
Height/Weight: 5’11” 195 lbs.
Age: 32 (33 on 1/9/2021)
Experience/Draft: 11; selected in the third round (No. 88 overall) by the Arizona Cardinals in the 2010 NFL Draft
College: The Citadel
Acquired: Signed as UFA with Buffalo on 3/13/19
Financial situation (per Spotrac): Roberts enters the final year of a two-year contract worth a total of $4.6 million. His salary-cap hit this season is set to be $2 million.
2019 Recap: Roberts paid immediate dividends in the return game, as he finished in the top five in kickoff return average (26.6 yards per return; fourth overall) and the top ten in punt return average (8 yards per return; tied for seventh overall). He fumbled once, which was a welcome sight after Bills’ fans were constantly on edge watching Ray-Ray McCloud and Isaiah McKenzie, who fumbled twice each on returns. Roberts caught three passes for 20 yards on just seven targets.
Positional outlook: Roberts finds himself in a numbers game at receiver, as the Bills have a total of 11 on the current roster. With John Brown, Cole Beasley, and Stefon Diggs set to make the team for sure, and rookie Gabriel Davis a safe bet as the team’s fourth-round choice in the 2020 NFL Draft, that means Roberts will fight with Isaiah McKenzie, Ray-Ray McCloud, Duke Williams, Isaiah Hodgins, Robert Foster, and Nick Easley for what will likely be a maximum of two roster spots.
2020 Offseason: Thanks to COVID-19, we haven’t had one.
2020 Season outlook: The question to consider with Roberts is an easy one: How much do the Bills value his contributions in the return game? If the answer is “enough,” then he’s on the roster. If the team would rather give its younger players with greater upside on offense (Hodgins, Williams, McKenzie) a shot while banking on there being more touchbacks and fair-catches than kickoff and punt returns, then Roberts is a goner, as he doesn’t offer much in the way of actual receiving ability. He’s most likely in a direct competition with McKenzie for the last receiver spot as a return man/gadget player. In any case, Buffalo is going to have some hard decisions to make at a positional group that just two years ago was among the worst in the league.