The New York Giants haven’t employed a consistently productive punt returner for a few seasons. Who will man that spot in 2020?
This past year, the New York Giants were one of the top franchises in the league when it came to returning punts. Having tied for the third-best team in those regards, Big Blue averaged 9.8 yards per punt return. It was a huge jump from their 2018 total (28th in the league with 6.2 yards per return), which led to the organization retaining special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey.
But in spite of the team’s success in that category, the Giants didn’t employ an individual who consistently produced at the position. In fact, the last time New York fielded a player who conjured up over 100 single-season punt-return yards was in 2016 when former Giant Dwayne Harris gained 170.
With that said, it’s clear the battle for this job will be wide open once the training camp and preseason periods arrive. While it won’t be as extensive as the position battle at kick returner, these four individuals may end up giving each other a run for their money when it comes to this specific special teams role.
S Jabrill Peppers
Despite the fact that Jabrill Peppers performs in a very valuable position on the defensive side of the ball, he’s simply too athletic not to be used in multiple spots. The Giants realized that last year when they provided him the opportunity to return four punts for 49 yards (12.3 yards per return).
No, that’s not a significant number of attempts, but Peppers did indeed spend much time at punt returner prior to his Giants tenure, therefore possessing great experience at the position. During his pair of seasons in Cleveland (2017-18), Peppers returned a total of 55 punts for 399 yards (7.3 yards per return). He additionally racked up 21 punt returns for 310 yards (14.8 yards per return) and one touchdown during his junior campaign at Michigan (2016).
His collegiate efforts in this role assisted him in earning the Rodgers-Dwight Return Specialist of the Year Award (top returner in the Big Ten), a first-team All-Big Ten selection, and a unanimous All-American selection in 2016. Peppers was also a Heisman finalist that year.
He’s certainly the most athletic guy on this list and portrays that quality regardless of the position. Thus, it would be a mistake for the Giants not to consider him at this spot.
WR Corey Coleman
Corey Coleman has only returned one punt in his NFL career, but there are still a few reasons why I believe he’ll at least be given a look.
For one, the Giants evidently carry faith in him considering they decided to bring him back on a one-year deal after the 25-year-old suffered a torn ACL on the first day of training camp last year. Having said that, the coaching staff will be looking to give Coleman some sort of role. It may not entirely be at wide receiver though, which would open the door for special teams to be in Corey’s near future.
And then, you need to factor in Coleman’s past success at returning kicks. During the 2018 campaign — his inaugural season with Big Blue — Coleman racked up 598 kick-return yards on 23 attempts, having averaged 26.0 yards per return. The punt-return game definitely has its differences from the kick-return game, but that doesn’t mean Coleman wouldn’t be able to transfer his skills from one department to the next.
It’d be tough to beat out a guy like Peppers for this job, but don’t be surprised if the Joe Judge-led staff takes a good look at the 2016 first-round pick.
WR Golden Tate
The veteran wideout is the most experienced guy on this list (entering his age-32 season), but that could be a problem. Golden Tate isn’t the type of athlete he once was, which is why the Giants may want to limit his duties to just the wide receiver position. Nonetheless, he still might at least earn a look at this spot.
During the 2019 campaign, Tate was the team’s leading punt returner in terms of total yards gained. He ultimately racked up 97 yards on 10 returns, beating out wideout TJ Jones by just one yard. Golden hasn’t surpassed the 100-yard mark in a few years though. The last time he achieved that mark was in 2015 when he gained 149 yards on 20 punt returns with the Lions. He additionally succeeded at the position in 2013 while with the Seahawks — 585 yards on 51 returns.
But as was said before, he’s not that type of athlete anymore, which is why he’ll ultimately have a tough time winning this job.
WR Da’Mari Scott
Saying Da’Mari Scott will be the team’s top punt returner is a major stretch right now, but he should still be in the conversation.
As with Coleman, Scott is in danger of becoming buried on the depth chart at the wide receiver position, considering numerous other guys on the roster are simply more talented than him. But if the Giants, and especially McGaughey, see that he carries a certain type of value, they may want to keep him on the team and use him in some way, shape, or form.
McGaughey fielded Scott at the punt returner spot during his five-game stint on the active roster last year, so why not try that experiment again?
On six returns, Scott conjured up a total of 32 yards, having averaged 5.3 yards per return. No, the numbers weren’t eye-popping. But with the proper coaching, it’s possible Scott could sooner or later find his niche at this spot.