With the news of Darren Sproles’ re-aggravated hamstring and DeAndre Carter’s signing with the Houston Texans, the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles find themselves in a bit of a pickle. They don’t have a proven punt returner on the roster... or do they?
Before we get to the answer, let’s talk about what we let walk. I pounded the table for Carter making the team during the preseason and am a fan of his game. He was waived two days ago to make room for defensive tackle and T.Y. McGill. This move spoke to the availability of Timmy Jernigan, who is working his way back from injury, but also led to the current sticky situation.
Carter’s biggest contribution as a punt returner came in Week 4 against the Tennessee Titans. Down 20-17 in the fourth quarter with two minutes remaining, Carter put the Eagles in striking distance. His 42-yard return eventually led to a game-tying field goal which forced the game to overtime.
On the year, Carter returned 10 punts for 103 yards. His departure leaves the Eagles with only two other players with punt return experience. Nelson Agholor and Corey Clement. Combined they’ve account for 7 returns for 18 yards. Not to say they aren’t perfectly cromulent replacements, but there is a better option.
What if the Eagles used a new acquisition in that role?
Jordan Mailata Golden Tate has experience as a punt returner and according to Detroit Lions’ beat reporters he has consistently worked on it in recent training camps.
The last time Tate worked extensively as a return was 2013, when he returned 51 punts for 585 yards (11.5 average). In the next three years he has returned 24 punts combined for 187 yards (7.8 average).
Some might question using a starting player that the Eagles’ recently spent a 2019 third round selection to acquire in a special teams role. The risk is putting him in harms way unnecessarily. The reward is getting solid production from a player who is comfortable fielding punts. I’ll add, the risk is an inexperienced player muffing away a game or a possession in Eagles territory.
The Eagles need to make a run to secure a playoff spot; now is not the time to shy away from utilizing the strengths of what they have available out of fear. It’s easy to see how Tate’s skill-set translates and him filling in at punt returner makes the most sense right now.