Taking a look at the New York Giants’ five potential options at the kick returner position ahead of the upcoming campaign.
Over the past few years, the New York Giants haven’t been the best, but nowhere near the worst when it comes to returning kicks. Just last year, they were 10th in the league with 23.5 yards per kick return. Big Blue was additionally seventh the year before with an average of 24.4 yards in that category.
But they’re indeed entering a season in which they don’t employ their leading kick returner from a year ago. Cody Latimer, who racked up 570 kick return yards in 2019, is now with the division-rival Washington Redskins. This team has also been without a consistent guy for the position, as the last time it employed someone who reached 600 single-season kick return yards and returned one back for a score was when former Giant Dwayne Harris did both in 2015 — 631 yards, one touchdown.
So entering the 2020 campaign, one of the unsung position battles could be this exact spot. In an era in which rules are phasing out the effectiveness of kickoff returns, here are five players who could actually succeed in that role for Big Blue this upcoming season.
WR Corey Coleman
Corey Coleman was a solid option at kick returner in 2018 and was hoping to somewhat retain that role in 2019. A season-ending torn ACL on the first day of training camp ended those wishes though.
The Giants decided to bring him back on a one-year deal this offseason, but he certainly will need to prove he’s worth a roster spot once the training camp and preseason periods commence. He could have a tough time seeing the field as a receiver considering he’s not the tall wideout this roster desperately needs (Coleman stands at 5-foot-11). Thus, the former first-round selection may need to put his return skills on display in order to catch the eyes of this coaching staff.
In 2018, Coleman returned 23 kicks for 598 yards (26.0 yards per return), having led the team in the former two categories.
He’s definitely talented when it comes to this spot and may need to prove it on special teams in order to make the active roster. Unless he succumbs to another injury, expect Coleman to earn a multitude of kick return opportunities ahead of the regular season.
CB Corey Ballentine
Ahead of his second year in the league, Corey Ballentine will find himself part of a deep position battle at slot corner. He’ll likely be going up against Grant Haley, Julian Love, Sam Beal, and rookies Darnay Holmes and Chris Williamson. Ballentine did notch two starts at the slot corner position last year, but this is a mostly new coaching staff with a new defensive coordinator, so things could change.
If Ballentine loses the battle for the starting job, the team could still field him at kick returner, a spot he was actually decent in last year.
During his rookie campaign, Ballentine racked up 256 yards on 10 kick returns (25.6 yards per return). His yardage total was second on the team behind Latimer.
Considering the recent investment they made in him (sixth-round pick in 2019), the Giants will likely want him on the field in some way, shape, or form even if it doesn’t happen to be much on the defensive side of the ball. The kick returner position could be the solution.
RB Javon Leake
The undrafted rookie may be the sleeper pick of this potential position battle.
Prior to the Giants signing him this past April, Javon Leake returned 30 kicks for 804 yards (26.8 yards per return) and a pair of touchdowns during his 2019 junior campaign with Maryland. He ultimately led the Big Ten in kick returns, total kick return yards, was tied for first in kick return touchdowns, and finished second in average yards per kick return. Leake additionally recorded the longest kick return in the conference last year (100 yards).
His efforts earned him the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year Award for the conference’s top returner along with a spot on the All-Big Ten first team.
Not to mention, Leake did all of this while leading the Terrapins in rushing yards (736) and tying for first in total rushing touchdowns (eight). This is all the more impressive when you consider the fact he was second on the team in carries (102).
Leake is a talented kid who surprisingly didn’t go to any of the 32 teams during the 2020 NFL Draft. The Giants acquired an absolute steal in the former Terrapin and will need to utilize his assets one way or another. It could eventually be as Saquon Barkley‘s backup, but would initially be on special teams.
CB Darnay Holmes
As with Ballentine, Darnay Holmes will compete to be the team’s starting slot corner. The difference between the two though is that Ballentine likely carries a much better chance at winning the job than Holmes. With that said, Holmes will probably be used more in a special teams role while he learns the ropes as a rookie defensive back.
The coaching staff will want to utilize him in some way, and in spite of the fact that he only returned five kicks in his final two years with UCLA combined (totaling 163 yards and one score), Holmes did succeed at the position during his 2017 freshman campaign.
Throughout that season, Holmes returned 33 kicks for 715 yards (21.7 yards per return), having led the team in each of the three aforementioned categories. He was additionally third in the Pac-12 in kick returns, fourth in kick return yards, and sixth in average yards per kick return that year.
I’m not saying he’ll win the job nor possesses any sort of clearcut path to becoming the team’s No. 1 guy at the position. Nonetheless, expect the 2020 fourth-round selection to possibly earn some kick return reps prior to his inaugural regular season in the pros.
WR Da’Mari Scott
Da’Mari Scott likely won’t find any sort of significant time at receiver. There are too many guys ahead of him that will bring much more to the team from that spot — Sterling Shepard, Darius Slayton, Golden Tate, to name a few.
Scott will thus need to portray his talents to this mostly new coaching staff through special teams, and although he hasn’t returned many kicks in the pros, his numbers aren’t bad for the opportunities he has earned.
In three games last year (Weeks 15-17), Scott returned four kicks for 110 yards (27.5 yards per return). He also has decent speed, having run a 4.47 40-yard dash at the 2018 Fresno State Pro Day.
Scott may need to step up in this position in both training camp and preseason and make it his strength in order to snag an active roster spot.