The Steelers have given Demarcus Ayers a shot being their new return man. Like his predecessors, Ayers is smaller in stature, has the capability to do many different things on offense, and will likely be able to make a name for himself as a return man. Let’s take a look at this trend.
Four years ago, the Steelers chose Chris Rainey as their return man. At 5’9” and 180 pounds, Rainey seemed promising, having been fairly productive and fast in college. In addition to being a return man, people thought he had great potential as runner and receiver. Unfortunately, he did not perform as well as many expected. Rainey only posted 102 rushing yards on 26 attempts, as well as another 60 receiving yards on 14 catches. On special teams, Rainey did a so-so job returning kicks, with an average of 26.4 yards a pop. He made little progress on punts, totaling 16 yards on only three returns. After this year of mediocre performance, Rainey was let go after he got in a domestic dispute with his girlfriend.
In the third round of the 2014 NFL Draft two years later, the Steelers chose Dri Archer from Kent State. Archer was even smaller than Rainey at 5’8” and 175 pounds, but he had the potential to make a big difference on the team. In addition to being productive in college, Archer had a sub-4.3 speed. He would have made a large impact if he had found himself in open space, but he was never presented with this opportunity. In a little under two seasons, Archer had only totaled 63 yards. He did not do a stellar job in the return game, and when it came to punts, he had just one attempt for two yards.
Last November, Archer was released and was replaced by Jacoby Jones, who had once been a great return specialist. However, it was quickly learned that his return skills weren’t available when the Steelers needed them. After coming to Pittsburgh, Jones recorded only 19 yards on six punt returns. As a result, Jones is no longer on the team.
With Rainey, Archer and Jones gone, head coach Mike Tomlin will most likely allow the legendary Antonio Brown to return punts. Brown is one of the most-prized and valuable offensive charges on the team. But if Brown doesn’t return punts, perhaps Demarcus Ayers will.
Ayers is a running back, a receiver and a return specialist coming out of Houston. He was selected in the seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Ayers is a little bigger than Rainey and Archer at 5’11” and 190 pounds, and is a little slower with a 4.7 40 time.
Throughout his college career, Ayers has accumulated 1,838 yards, but there are so many offensive weapons at coach Todd Haley’s disposal that it’s doubtful that Ayers will make a large impact during his rookie season.
Demarcus Ayers will probably have to take positions on special teams, most likely as a returner, in order to get to the NFL. When it comes to punt returns, Ayers averaged 9.6 years throughout his final two seasons in college. Antonio Brown has the capability to do it all, but if Demarcus Ayers can at least that the duty of punt returns off of Brown’s hands, he should be able to secure a spot on the Steelers next year.