Houston Texans: Keshawn Martin Can Boost Improving Return Game

Ryan Huff@CaptRyanHuffContributor IIIMay 7, 2012

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - DECEMBER 03:  Keshawn Martin #82 of the Michigan State Spartans runs for yards after the catch against Peniel Jean #21 of the Wisconsin Badgers during the Big 10 Conference Championship Game at Lucas Oil Stadium on December 3, 2011 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)
Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

In all of the talk about the Houston Texans’ new crop of receivers, one of them—Keshawn Martin—could deliver something the team has been improving other than receiving: yards on returns.

The Texans spent much of the offseason tweaking various roles on both offense and defense, but one of the biggest inconsistencies in their game is the return. In 2011, the Texans ended up seventh in the NFL for average yards per kickoff return and 15th for average yards per punt return.

These numbers aren’t bad, especially after 2010 saw the Texans at 27th and 29th in the same respective categories. But the Texans can’t afford to let this progress go, and drafting Martin appears to be part of that plan.

The recent release of Jacoby Jones says a lot about the Texans’ unwillingness to settle with the progress their special teams unit has made. Ultimately, Jones’ inconsistent performance both as a return man and a receiver (not to mention his superfluous salary) was enough to get the Texans looking for a different man on special teams.

While Jones also became a heel because of his dropped punt return against the Ravens during the playoffs, the statistics tell a very different story of his abilities on special teams. It’s hard to argue that Jones wasn’t expendable, but it’s equally hard to argue that his special teams performance made him worthless. Those kinds of improvements are what the Texans have been driving hard for in the last few years.

And so they look to young receivers, Martin among them. He has shown promise as a receiver, and his 66 receptions and 777 receiving yards in 2011 ranked him second among Michigan State’s WRs.

Still, he likely won’t see a ton of  offensive game time, especially as the Texans will likely test their third-round pick, DeVier Posey, as Jones’ replacement at receiver.

But for Martin, his ability to return punts has been the focus.

Joe Marciano, the Texans’ special teams coach, said that Martin will be returning punts this season and expressed his optimism:  “He’s fearless. He has courage. He has toughness. He has running back instincts. He runs a middle return as good as anybody’s ever seen.”

If Martin’s attitude remains as Marciano describes in the NFL, his physical ability will allow him to maneuver well down the field. He ran a 4.45 40-yard dash at this year’s combine, placing him just outside of the top 10 receivers there, and stands at 5’11.5” and 188 lbs. His quickness and adept running add promising depth as a slot receiver.

What’s more important now, though, is his clear ability to enhance a constantly developing special teams by consistently and quickly moving forward to make the big play. His speed and attitude, founded on his instinctive ability to drive downfield, is what makes Martin such an exciting prospect as a playmaker for the Texans.