Antwaan Randle El is one slippery dude. He’s quick, and he’ll cut on a dime. He probably doesn’t receive enough recognition in the press for his receiving prowess. The past two years he’s caught over 50 passes while playing in a less-than-prolific offense. Last year he averaged over 11 yards-per-catch (YPC). The previous season he averaged over 14 YPC. Some might expect a # 2 receiver to get open more frequently, but it’s not like he’s been playing in the most prolific offense on the planet since coming to Washington. When Randle El catches the ball, he moves the chains. And, he rarely fumbles. The numbers tell us that, and they don’t lie. Unfortunately, there’s another set of numbers which tell an entirely different story.
In his first year with the Redskins (2006), Randle El averaged nearly 9 yards per punt return. Among all punt returners, including those who only touched the ball a handful of times, his average yards-per-return ranking was 31st. If you discount those who returned punts less than once per game, it appears he would have tied for 15th. Not too shabby. But, the past two seasons his average yards-per-return ranking against all returners was 51st (2007) and 54th (2008). He fumbled twice in each year, and failed to run a punt back for a touchdown in either year. In 2008 he led the league with 21 fair-catches.
Obviously, there are multiple factors at play here such as blocking schemes, injuries, Danny Smith’s instructions in certain situations, etc. But, the fact is, Antwaan Randle El’s production as a punt returner is declining. If you compared his 2007 average yardage output to just those players who returned at least one punt-per-game that season, he’d be ranked 21st out of 28. In 2008, that ranking would be 22nd out of 28.
I like Antwaan Randle El, a lot. He’s a productive receiver who moves the chains. He enhances the offense’s trick-play options, and he’s a class act. But, someone else needs to step up and take over the punt return job. Until that happens, forcing the other team to punt won’t result in the kind of field position the Redskins’ offense needs in order to be competitive at an elite level. There are other Special Teams’ performance issues, to be sure. Still, this one needs to be addressed before the season opener against the Giants.