One of the most underrated problems last year was the Eagles inability to flip the field on special teams and put the team in good starting field position. Last year the Eagles average starting field position was incredibly mediocre, finishing 18th in the NFL. But that doesn’t really highlight how horrible the Eagles were on returns last year, last year the Eagles were 29th in the NFL in both kick and punt returns. Not very good.
And for those of you prepared to argue that field position doesn’t matter, notice that ten of the twelve playoff teams last season placed in the top half of the NFL in starting field position.
The Eagles, seeing this really made it a point to beef up their return game. This offseason the Eagles have added Brandon Boykin, Mardy Gilyard, Cliff Harris and DaMaris Johnson, clearly showing their intent to improve on special teams. And they also have Ronald Johnson on the roster who is going through his first offseason as an Eagle after spending the season on the practice squad.
Just look at the kick return production these guys had in college:
Brandon Boykin: 110 kick returns for 2663 yards (24.2 yards per return), 4 kicks returned for touchdowns, 14 punts returned for 180 yards (12.8 per return) and 1 returned for a touchdown. The only player in SEC history with three 100+ yard plays. He’s the all-time leading kick returner at Georgia. He won the Paul Hornung award that is given to the “most versatile player in college football” in 2011.
Mardy Gilyard: 93 kicks returned for 2664 yards (28.6 yards per return), 4 kicks returned for touchdowns, 44 punts returned for 252 yards (5.7 per return) and 1 returned for a touchdown at Cincinnati. He was a two time Big East special teams player of the year.
Cliff Harris: 9 kickoffs returned for 192 yards (21.3 yards per return), 38 punts returned for 614 yards (16.1 per return) and four punts returned for touchdowns. He was a first team all american in 2010 for his work on punt returns and he was named the best punt returner in college football after the 2010 season at the College Football Performance Awards.
DaMaris Johnson: 134 kickoffs returned for 3417 yards (25.5 yards per return), 2 kicks returned for touchdowns, 47 punts returned for 571 yards (12.1 yards per return) and 2 punts returned for touchdowns. Johnson is the all time leader in career kick return yardage at the NCAA level.
Ronald Johnson: 56 kicks returned for 1351 yards (26.4 yards per return), 31 punts returned for 312 yards (10.6 per return) and 1 punt returned for a touchdown.
In total, these 5 players combined for 10,287 kick return yards, 10 kicks returned for touchdowns, 1921 punt return yards and 9 punts returned for touchdowns at the college level. None of these players has much of any experience at the NFL level and they should all be given a shot as a return specialist.