One Flaw in the Washington Redskins' 53-Man Roster: Punt Returning

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One Flaw in the Washington Redskins' 53-Man Roster: Punt Returning
(Photo by: Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

There is an easy story to write about the Washington Redskins. It's one that may play out again this year, one that wasn’t fixed by the Redskins 53-man roster.

Every year, the Redskins look amazing on paper yet have failed to post a winning record in seven out of the last 10 years.

The special teams unit, which was ranked 25th by Football Outsiders, was a barren desert of production last season: from Shaun Suisham making a career-low 72 percent of his kicks, to punters Durant Brooks and Ryan Plackemeier, to Antwaan Randle El returning punts. 

The Redskins organization has only fixed one of those problems (Hunter Smith as the new punter), hoped one problem would fix itself (Suisham), and totally ignored the other (Randle El).

Whether you use basic NFL statistics or advanced metrics, Randle El ranked near the bottom in punt returning. 

He returned 39 punts for a total of 254 yards, an average of 6.5 yards per return.  Among those who qualified with enough returns, Randle El ranks 21st, sixth from the bottom

He had 21 fair catches, the most in the league.

The guys from Football Outsiders didn’t like Randle El’s season either. Randle El is a bottom five punt returner with a value over average of -7.47 points. 

That means that Randle El, because he loses field position with poor returns and calls for so many fair catches, costs the Redskins 7.47 points over an “average” NFL punt returner.  He ranked 40th out of 43 eligible players. 

But in the big picture, what does that mean for the Redskins?

Take those seven and a half points and spread them over a couple games. Then consider the Redskins had five games decided by three points or less last year.

By having Randle El return punts—especially in the grind-it-out NFC East—losing the field position battle in close games is tantamount to checkmate. 

That’s how a team good enough to go 10-6 winds up finishing 8-8.

The Redskins had a chance to turn around those numbers—turn a negative into positive—when they released their 53-man roster earlier this week.

They brought Dominique Dorsey and Anthony Alridge into training camp as possible replacements for Randle El, but they had a difficult decision to make: whether they had room to designate a roster spot for a punt returner.

Instead, the Redskins took Marcus Mason and sixth cornerback Byron Westbrook with the last few roster spots. 

Both provide immediate depth to core positions. Mason could rotate in like Shaun Alexander late in the year if Clinton Portis or Ladell Betts get hurt. Westbrook serves as the insurance policy for the first couple of weeks because of Carlos Rodgers’ lingering calf injury.

The Redskins missed a great opportunity to heal an immediate wound in their team.  Health insurance is great, but when you’re bleeding, Band-Aid’s are better. 

Dominique Dorsey, a former CFL special teams player of the year, would have made a great Band-Aid.

Instead of taking a third quarterback and a punt returner, the Redskins made other choices.

Choices that might cost them 7.47 points this season (approximately).

Choices that might mean the difference between making the playoffs and missing them.

If only we could find a punt returner that costs $100 million, then Daniel Synder might finally be interested.

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