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Pittsburgh had one of the most dangerous players in the league last year in Antonio Brown, as he became the first player in NFL history to go over 1,000 receiving yards and 1,000 return yards in the same season.
Brown ranked 10th in punt return average (10.8 yards per return) and 10th in kickoff return average (27.3 yards per return) en route to over 1,062 yards. He also added a punt return.
The excellent field position that Brown put the Steelers offense in will be tough to replace, but there are a number of quality candidates who will try to take over his role as return man.
Emmanuel Sanders is the most likely veteran to earn the position. He has had limited experience in the pros as a returner, but has had moderate success.
In two seasons, Sanders has averaged 11.7 yards per return on punts and 24.0 yards per return on kick offs.
However, if Sanders has a big role as the slot receiver, the Steelers may look toward a rookie, and the two players with the best chance at winning the job are fifth-round draft choice Chris Rainey and rookie free agent Marquis Maze.
Both players can be dynamic returners and will have plenty of opportunities in camp and the preseason.
Rainey averaged 9.0 yards per punt return while at the University of Florida, but did score two touchdowns and 25.2 yards per return on kicks.
The speed, quickness and ability to change directions all favor Rainey in the return game. He is a versatile player who can be explosive with the ball in his hands, and this would provide him with yet another opportunity to make a big play.
Maze will really have to make a splash if he is to beat out Sanders and Rainey, as he has a slight build for a receiver and may have trouble playing the position in the pro game. It is difficult to crack the Steelers roster as exclusively a return man, but it has been done before (see Stefan Logan).
At Alabama, Maze averaged 12.7 yards per punt return and had one touchdown and averaged 26.2 yards per kick return.
Maze's specialty is punt returns, and he is fairly inexperienced in kick returns, with only 21 in college. He will have to show that he can do both if he wants to make the Steelers roster.
Pittsburgh is not without options, though, as this figures to be an intriguing battle to watch during training camp.
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