The 2015 NFL offseason has begun for the Philadelphia Eagles, which means Chip Kelly and his staff will spend the next couple of weeks evaluating the 2014 roster. While the team was able to achieve 10-6 record, they fell short of making the playoff, and there are still many ways the Eagles roster could be improved upon. By the time NFL free agency starts on March 10, the Eagles will have a good idea of which players they'll want to bring back for the 2014 season. Today we'll continue this offseason review series by looking at the special teams return unit. Click here for more reviews.
Like the special teams coverage unit review, this post will look a little different than the typical position review post considering the return unit isn't really a position by itself. Last year I wouldn't have even considered doing a review on this unit considering how irrelevant it was. This year, however, it's a completely different story. The Eagles were really good on returns.
|Punt Return Avg||13||8.9||4.1||3|
|Kickoff Return Avg||27.3||23.8||3.5||5|
The reason for the improvement was obvious: an upgrade in personnel. Darren Sproles is a billion times the returner that Damaris Johnson once was for Philadelphia. Sproles finished with a total of 506 punt return yards in 2014, and keep in mind that he missed one game. The Eagles, as a team, finished with a mere 171 yards in 2013. That's obviously a huge difference.
Sproles finished the season with a league-leading mark of 13 yards per return. He also scored a touchdown on two of his returns. The 31-year-old veteran received plenty of recognition for his efforts. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week 4 and Week 10. He also earned his first-ever Pro Bowl honors.
While Sproles' ability to make people miss is certainly part of the equation, I'd be remiss not to mention his excellent blocking. For an example of what I mean, check out this review by our friends over at ChipWagon.
Speaking of awesome blocking, the Eagles were also very successful when it came to kick returns. Backup running back Chris Polk became the first-ever Eagles player to return a kickoff return for a touchdown at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 3 with a 102-yard return. In Week 12, it was much-maligned rookie Josh Huff who took the game's opening kickoff 107 yards to the house. Polk and Huff combined for 755 return yards on 26 attempts, which comes out to about a 29 yard average. For context, that combined figure would rank third among qualified returners.
Unfortunately for Philadelphia, the kickoff return unit was also responsible for one of the biggest mistakes of the entire season. Brad Smith's failure to recover the opening kickoff in the Week 15 Eagles-Cowboys game allowed Dallas to start the game in easy scoring position. That anomaly of a play really killed the crowd's energy that night.
Moving forward, it looks like Huff will be the full-time kick returner. He showed potential there not only in the regular season but he also had a kickoff return for a touchdown in the preseason as well.
The Eagles might not be able to rely on the frequency of touchdowns they scored on returns in 2014 but they should still have a fairly successful return unit due to Chip Kelly's emphasis on special teams.
And now for some video/GIFs:
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