Niles Paul and kick returns

November 12, 2013

(John McDonnell/The Washington Post)

When I got in my car Monday afternoon, ESPN 980′s Kevin Sheehan and Chris Russell were agreeing with each other that Niles Paul was the best man for the Redskins’ kick-returning job.

Now, granted, he’s been the best man thus far. Paul has averaged 21.4 yards on five kickoff returns, ahead of both Chris Thompson (20.0 yards in eight attempts) and Joshua Morgan (19.9 yards in nine attempts). But you never exactly get the impression that Paul might break off a long return for a touchdown, swinging a game’s momentum, taking some of the scoring burden off the offense, stunning the opposition, and forcing the opposition’s special-teams coach to run into an official.

Part of the reason might be that Paul is a tight end. Sure, he was drafted as a wide receiver, and he’s probably among the NFL’s swiftest tight ends, but he’s still a tight end. And tight ends typically don’t return a ton of kickoffs. Thus, some stats.

* Paul had 13 kickoff returns last year, and already has five this year. According to Pro Football Reference, that makes him the first tight end in NFL history to return at least five kickoffs in consecutive seasons. In the history of the NFL. Ever. In league history.

* In fact, only two other tight ends have returned at least five kicks in two different seasons: Brian Kozlowski and Gary Shirk. The former had seasons with five and seven kickoff returns, and the latter had seasons with five and six.

* Paul’s 13 kickoff returns last season were the second-most ever for an NFL tight end in a single season. Emery Moorhead is first, with 23. Will Paul remain Washington’s kick returner for the final seven games? I have no idea. But the Redskins have averaged a bit more than 2.5 kickoff returns per game. If that continues, and if Paul gets all of the returns, he would be on pace to finish with 23 returns, tied for the most by a tight end in NFL history.

* Paul already ranks sixth in NFL history in total kickoff returns by a tight end, again, according to Pro Football Reference. He has 19. If he averages 2.3 returns per game over the next seven, he would end this season with 35 career kickoff returns, which would be second for all NFL tight ends ever. That would leave him behind only Billy Cannon, who played in the ’60s and was listed at several different positions. (Mike Sellers is currently second among tight ends on the all-time list with 34, although obviously he wasn’t often dropping back deep.)

* Again according to Pro Football Reference, there has been one kickoff return by a tight end for a touchdown in NFL history. It came from Earl Thomas, an 82-yarder in 1972. At least two players who were sometimes listed as tight ends returned kickoffs for a touchdown while listed as something else.

* Meanwhile, here’s Mike Tanier, writing at Sports On Earth: “The Redskins special teams are awful. In fact, they are on pace to be the worst ever. That’s not internet hyperbole, it’s science: Football Outsiders ranks the Redskins special teams as the third worst of the last 20 years through the first half of a season. And they’re just a few punt return touchdowns or blocked field goals away from being historically terrible.”

Dan Steinberg writes about all things D.C. sports at the D.C. Sports Bog.
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Dan Steinberg · November 12, 2013