I have been looking forward to this one for since the start of the season. The chance to wax lyrically about the most slept on returner of all time – Andre Roberts.
Earlier in his career, Roberts was seen as a capable Wide Receiver, a third or fourth option that would develop over time. In his 3rd season with the Cardinals, he even managed a 64 catch, 759 yard and 5 TD season. Even though Roberts was a special team standout, it always seemed strange that his usage on offense dried up in later years, (he only has 16 catches in his last 4 seasons).
Either way, now aged 32, Roberts now focuses his energy on being one of the best return players the NFL has seen since Devin Hester. Roberts doesn’t have the gaudy numbers when it comes to TD’s that Hester had, but what he does have is frightening consistency, good decision making and the ability to get beyond the 25 yard line.
In today’s modern NFL where Punters are more adept at placing their punts, and coaches are always trying to minimize their opposition’s strengths, Roberts still excels. In three out of the last 5 years he has managed 12 yards or more on punt returns and in the last three seasons, he is averaging 28.3 yards per kick return.
For some context, former Patriot and much more publicly vaunted returner – Cordarrelle Patterson averages around the same on Kick Returns, and doesn’t return punts. Patterson has been an All-Pro 3 times as a Special Teams player, Roberts, just once. This is despite the fact that he offers significantly more in the Punt game.
Bill Belichick usually has something positive to say about Roberts’ play in the week leading up to a game. In 2018 Bill described him as “explosive”, and “fast”, “he doesn’t need much space — once he hits the seam, it’s all over.” In an interview with Zach Cox from NESN (https://nesn.com/2018/12/andre-roberts-is-best-returner-patriots-have-seen-in-years-matthew-slater-says/) Matthew Slater claimed that Roberts was the “best returner they had played in 5 years” and drew comparisons with Devin Hester.
The Patriots are well equipped to handle Roberts with their talent on Special Teams remaining largely healthy while all the other position groups have suffered. In Slater, the Patriots have a Hall of Fame Gunner (if there is such a thing) so the matchup will be intriguing. It’s always fun to see the best players in the NFL at their positions, do what they do best, hopefully Roberts will have an off day this week. Based on last weeks performance versus the 49ers, they need all the help they can get.
–Luke O’Brien is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @lukeobrienNFL