The Buffalo Bills boast a roster poised to be everything but explosive on offense. They have a a stout defense and a special teams unit that was among the best in the league in 2014, and the team will need every bit of that help once again in 2015. They might even need more, if their three quarterbacks competing for the starting job can’t replicate a Kyle Orton level of play.
If the Bills can't score touchdowns through the air, they'll need at least a couple from said special teams unit. The Bills swayed a couple of games with timely kick return touchdowns last season, and they’ll need even more in 2015 if they’re going to improve on their 9-7 record and sneak into the playoffs. With some old faces and new acquisitions in the race, let’s see who might be poised to take the mantle of offensive savior on a team in need of big plays from the kick return game.
McKelvin stands as the preemptive favorite because of his proven ability to bust a big run, and because of his veteran status on the team. With more cornerback depth this season, the Bills can afford to push McKelvin more on special teams and give him a breather on certain drives. He had three punt returns of 20-plus yards in 2014, and has three career punt return touchdowns with a kick return score as well.
Another guy with a proven history of quality returns in somewhat big games. This seems a bit less likely than McKelvin, because you’d like to see Harvin more involved with the offense than on special teams. Still, it’s nice to have an additional weapon for this role, and it's not hard to imagine Harvin and McKelvin will each see some punts come their way. Harvin has five kickoff return scores but none on punt returns, which makes for a nice overlap (or lack thereof) with McKelvin, who has a better history with the punt returns.
It's probably a longshot, but why not try Brown on return duties? If he can hold onto the ball on a high kick (big if), he certainly has the speed and shiftiness you want to see from a returner. Additionally, you wouldn’t be gassing a starter by having him make returns.
As the Week 15 hero whose punt return touchdown proved to be the difference in Buffalo’s upset win over Green Bay, Thigpen is the longest shot on here simply because it will be tough for him to make a roster spot on a team this deep. If he does, though, it will be because of his ability in this facet of the game.
If he makes the roster, why not give the speedster some extra chances to make a difference? It's hard to believe Goodwin can’t easily hit the 20-yard line from the end zone on most kickoff returns, at the very least.
He’s only here because of his past experience as a punt returner. He’s been relied on in the past to take punts deep in his own territory as a safety measure to prevent a muffed return, or some such disaster. While there’s no explosiveness to this choice, don’t be surprised if Jackson takes one or two punts this year in those conservative-type situations.
Anyone else you see as a prime candidate for returning kicks this year? Let us know in the comments.