John Fennelly, Lead WriterThe Giants’ kickoff returns were electric in 2012 with rookie David Wilson amassing a league-high 1,533 yards on 57 attempts. In 2013, Wilson’s role shifted to No. 1 RB and then he was felled by a season-ending neck injury, limiting him to nine returns. Rookie RB Michael Cox (20) and WR Jerrel Jernigan (11) were not nearly as impactful as Wilson and zazz went out of the Giants’ return game.
On punts, WR Rueben Randle handled 29 of the Giants’ 34 punts, calling a fair catch on 24 of them. His job was simple: don’t turn it over. He averaged 8.2 yards per attempt. The last time the Giants returned a punt for a TD was Dec 16, 2009 when Domenik Hixon took it 79 yards to the house against Dallas.
With Wilson not expected to begin the season on the active roster and a clear need for a bonafide punt returner, you can bet the Giants will be seeking to upgrade their return game this spring.
Jordan Raanan of the Star-Ledger has identified the top free agent returners the Giants could be looking at come March 11:
2. Devin Hester (Bears)
3. Dexter McCluster (Chiefs)
4. Ted Ginn (Panthers)
5. Quintin Demps (Chiefs)
Others: Josh Cribbs (Jets)
Raanan gets it right with his analysis, too:
Rueben Randle was a fair-catch machine last season. He was sure-handed, but hardly explosive. As as result, the Giants are putting an emphasis on the return game this offseason. Owner John Mara said as much in his year-end press conference — they need a returner. Translation: They will get a returner.
Don’t be surprised to see the Giants go after Jones, McCluster or Ginn, all of whom would kill two birds (veteran WR/returner) with one stone. McCluster would actually kill three birds. A player with his skill set would also give the Giants a much-needed pass-catching threat out of the backfield. It probably doesn’t hurt that the Giants saw first hand what a difference McCluster can make when he returned a punt 89 yards against them this past season.
The neglect on special teams has gone on long enough. The Giants need to get that punch back in all facets of the game. With the offense in for a trying year with a new system and the defense lacking the takeaway ability of seasons past, they need to vastly upgrade on specials in 2014.