Steelers weigh value of kick returns with exposing critical players too often

Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

There's perhaps a reason ex-Steelers kick returner Stefan Logan is probably the best kick returner of the last 15 years. There's Rod Woodson and there's no one else, some of it due to the diminished value of the position.

A fun trivia question. Who holds the Steelers' single season kick return yards record?

Stefan Logan, with 1,466 yards, in 2009. In fact, Logan, Ernie Mills and the infamous Chris Rainey are the only Steelers to ever gain 1,000 kick return yards in a season - not even Rod Woodson or Antonio Brown achieved that feat.

What's interesting is the characteristics, that have little to do with each other, but plenty to do with the Steelers' current selection of non-A.Brown returners. Oddly, all of them are originally from the state of Florida, with two of them (Rainey and Mills) went to the University of Florida. Logan went to Division II South Dakota.

Rainey and Logan were both under 5-foot-9. Mills was a third round pick with the running backs going in the fifth (Rainey) and undrafted, respectively.

All of that, and a a buck fifty, gets you a Sunday paper and a cup of coffee.

What really unifies them is a general lack of inclusion in the Steelers' offenses. Mills had 39 catches in 1995, certainly not a number to laugh at, but it's still less than half of what Yancey Thigpen (85) had. Rainey was close to nothing in terms of value as an offensive player and multiple publications reported Logan as anything from a running back to a safety at various points, not knowing what position, exactly, he played.

So excluding the coincidental fact the three top guys all hailed from the same state, you're left with a common bond of not being a prominent member of an offense - and absolutely zero offensive value on the low end.

The question of the day...who will it be?

Rookie Dri Archer has the speed and matches favorably size-wise with the diminutive Rainey and Logan. He also is much more likely to match Rainey's minimal production on offense and exceed Logan's non-existent stats, yet, still can serve a purpose outside returns on the 53-man roster.

WR Markus Wheaton has good long speed although he failed to top 25 yards on two kick returns last season. Injuries marred much of his rookie season and considering the team will likely make him the day 1 starter at split end, he may be excused from some of it.

Justin Brown and Derrick Moye have both reportedly been working with Steelers special teams coordinator Danny Smith, and to some degree, it's believed the work is being put in on returns more than coverage. Both players are on the bubble of this roster, so no option for them should be ruled out. Neither have great long speed, which isn't entirely necessary (think 6-foot-3, 215 pound David Dunn and his 25-yard average in 1998).

LaRod Stephens-Howling is still recovering from a torn ACL from Week 1 last season but has been a solid kick returner in his career. He's still a free agent and could be an emergency running back option.

The Steelers haven't produced a huge amount of high-end return men overall - Rod Woodson is, by a huge margin, the franchise's kick return yards leader. Woodson is no measuring stick, and the best return man of the last 20 years is probably Logan. Without the benefit of keeping a return specialist on the roster, someone will have to contribute on offense as well as returns.

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