I’ve been combing Al Gore’s Internet for a list of backups for the Bills’ kick/punt returner. I also tweeted out my list, and we arrived at 3-4 more I hadn’t considered. Let’s look at the KR/PR candidates, arranged from best fit to least likely, in my opinion.
Andre Roberts (Jets, Lions, Falcons, Redskins, Cardinals)
2018: 40 returns, 1174 yds, 1 TD, Long=99 yds, 29.4 YPR
Andre Roberts is a shoo-in for the Bills’ return job, and he just might serve double duty as the Bills’ 6th receiver. There are incentives in his contract for catches. Roberts led the NFL in kick-return yardage (1,174), while his KR average was second (29.4). He led the league in punt-return average (14.1). That’s why he was the AFC’s rep at the Pro Bowl. Some of these 2018 returns will put your eyebrows on stilts (watch the second one; it’s against our Bills). I expect they’ll try some of the other guys in this list during pre-season so as not to damage the goods.
Fit For Bills: A++
Devin Singletary (Florida Atlantic, C-USA)
2016: 13 returns, 284 yds, 0 TD, Long=100, 21.8 YPR
As a freshman, Devin Singletary volunteered to do kick returns for FAU. It seemed to be a sound coaching decision to put Singletary, who was averaging 6.7 yards per attempt on the field as a freshman RB. Singletary’s 21.8 yards per return was tenth in Conference USA, so he didn’t set the NCAA on fire…until the following year. Singletary’s 2017 rushing yardage was 4th in college football and his 33 TDs were #1. Pro Football Focus pegged Singletary No. 2 in missed tackles forced per touch and No. 2 in total breakaway yards (917 yards) that year. (Interesting fact: No.1 was David Montgomery, selected RD3#73 by Da Bears, immediately preceding Singletary at #74.) The Bills will find a use for Singletary, despite a stuffed stable of pigskin-toters McCoy, Gore, Yeldon, Perry, Christian Wade, Marcus Murphy, and FB Pat DiMarco. The team won’t risk putting Singletary on special teams, and he’ll need some extra touches.
Fit For Bills: A+
Victor Bolden (49ers)
19 returns, 396 yds., 0 TD, Long=28, 20.8 YPR
Last December, Brandon Beane signed WR Victor Bolden off the San Francisco 49ers’ practice squad. “Quick Six” Bolden (the best nickname I’ve heard for a special teamer) was a Niners’ UDFA out of Oregon State, where he’d set the school record with 2,420 career kickoff return yards, which remains the PAC-12’s fifth-most. Bolden returned two kickoffs for TDs during San Francisco’s preseason in 2017. Then in Week 2 against the Seahawks, he erupted for 3 kick returns for 71 total yards (23.7 YPR). He logged 19 returns totaling 396 yards (20.8 YPR) and 0 TDs last year for the Niners, but unfortunately Bolden had to be placed on injured reserve, and later on the practice squad. Beane needed a replacement for Marcus Murphy (dislocated elbow), and scooped him up. Bolden was suspended for the first 4 games for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, but it looks like the drug test result was due to “contaminated creatine”, per the NFLPA’s testing. Bolden took full responsibility, and vows to be more proactive about what he ingests in the future. (C’mon, how many of us have unknowingly ingested 1-8 spiders?)
Fit For Bills: A+
Marcus Murphy (Bills, Colts, Jets, Saints)
2018: 13 returns, 324 yards, 0 TD, Long=49 yds, 24.9 YPR
Don’t forget Marcus Murphy, whose 24.9 yards per return against NFL players beats Singletary’s current NFL average of 0.0. In fact, Murphy’s 3 punt-return touchdowns for Mizzou in 2012 led the NCAA (here are many happy returns from that year). His 2 kickoff-return TDs in 2014 also led the NCAA. Drafted by the Saints in 2015, Murphy started on special teams, and, in Week 3, returned a punt for a touchdown against Sean McDermott’s Panthers. Murphy fumbled 3 times his rookie year with New Orleans, and once in 2018 with the Bills, so that’s an issue.
Fit For Bills: A–
Isaiah McKenzie (Bills, Broncos)
2018: 12 returns, 237 yards, 0 TDs, Long=33, 19.8 YPR
A former Georgia Bulldog drafted by Denver in RD5 of 2017, McKenzie was compared to Antonio Brown by Mel “Hair” Kiper because of his kick/punt-return abilities and athleticism, projecting him as a RD3 pick to the Denver Broncos. Right team, at least. Antonio Brown totaled 3 punt-return TDs over 3 years; McKenzie recorded 5, a Georgia record. DraftTek had McKenzie at #251, projecting him in RD7. When the Broncos waived McKenzie in September 2018, the Bills picked him up. McKenzie scored this play-fake TD for the Bills vs. Jalen Ramsey’s Jaguars, illustrating how the diminutive, speedy slot receiver could be used in addition to returns like this. However, the Bills have three 20+ ypr returners now on the squad, and filled the slot role with Beasley. You have to make the roster to be the returner.
Fit For Bills: B-
Ray Ray McCloud (Bills)
1 return, 18 yards, 0 TDs, Long=18, 18.0 YPR
While Ray Ray has the best hair, the former Clemson returner needs to play like it’s on fire to secure a roster spot on the Bills. His reliability should be his major selling point. Ray Ray caught all 50 of his catchable targets in his final college year. He returned 50 punts while scoring on 5 of them in college (here’s one), showing some elusivity… and once on a kickoff. He’s not fast, and you don’t ever want to see McCloud do this –good thing Don Beebe wasn’t in sight on the play. Does McCloud deserve a longer look? Probably. Will he be on the final roster? Probably not. McCloud caught just 5 balls in 2018 for 36 yards (7.2 YPC). I’d have a shot at those numbers, and I’m 70. (Seriously. I caught all 8 passes thrown to me by Terry Bradshaw during a lull while shooting a Dick’s Sporting Goods commercial. My forty time can’t beat his 4.53, though.)
Fit For Bills: C
T.J. Yeldon (Jaguars)
Added to the Bills’ stable in April 2019, Yeldon hasn’t performed any KR/PR duties in his 4 years with the Jags, but he has a nose for the end zone, hitting pay dirt 6 times rushing and 6 times receiving. Four of those six receiving TDs came in 2018, his best year as a pro. Knock on wood: Yeldon hasn’t fumbled in the NFL, and he’s an above-average blocker. His versatile skillset includes 11 forced missed tackles on receptions in 2018. This Elusive Rating is tied for 9th-most in the NFL among qualified RBs. Coupled with Singletary’s #2 Elusive Rating among RBs in college in the same stat, it’s a Bills front-office trend (It’s not new; in fact, Fred Jackson was the NFL’s 2011 Elusive Rating King). Yeldon’s contract with the Bills was for 2 years, in contrast with Senorise Perry’s 1-year deal inked a month later. Still, lack of return experience in a crowded running back room puts him down the list.
Fit For Bills: C
Senorise Perry (Bears, Dolphins)
2018: 8 returns, 164 yds, 0 TD, Long=32 yds, 20.5 YPR
The Bills added Fins RB Senorise Perry as a free agent with a 1-year contract in mid-May, a month after Yeldon was signed. He’s no stranger to special teams, but may have even more value as a gunner. Last year, Perry led the Dolphins in special-teams tackles (9), and his ST snaps (301) would rank first on last year’s Bills. Perry also led the Bears in special teams tackles in his rookie year. The RB room is crowded, so Buffalo’s new #32 would really have to impress in pre-season, either as returner or top tackler.
Fit For Bills: C
Christian Wade (Wasps Winger, English National Team)
Wade would be ineligible as a 2019 option as the backup to Andre Roberts. At the conclusion of training camp, Wade would be eligible to be an 11th member of the Bills’ practice squad, but ineligible to be activated during the season. Wade’s a consideration for the future, however. A former professional rugby star, Wade has serious speed, seen here. The 27-year-old has been undergoing a rigorous training program at IMG to bridge to American football, and special teams contributions might be the best transition. Film study of a playbook and the rigors of daily NFL workouts would perhaps be too much to expect of Wade, and backup KR would be a good place to start. He sure has the instincts and moves.
Fit For Bills: Not This Year
Editor’s babble: Andre Roberts is an intriguing player. KR/PR might be what got him signed, but I’m anxious to see what he could do as WR6. Thanks to Dean Kindig for his ALWAYS insightful contributions to our blog. We are blessed by his willingness to share his wisdom with us. You can find Dean on Twitter @TCBILLS_Astro.