The other day, we discussed how the Falcons might elect to find special teamers from within, rather than chasing free agents who can play well for Keith Armstrong. If they're going that route, it does make you wonder who will be returning kicks and punts this coming season.
It won't be Devin Hester, I fear. The Falcons seem extremely likely to cut ties with the veteran returner as soon as he's healthy enough to be released,
As I see it, there are a handful of logical candidates, not all of which are currently on the roster. Let's run 'em down.
In many ways, the logical choice. Weems isn't breaking a ton of long returns and is a little prone to fair catching the ball when he might have been able to break one, but he average 26.9 yards per kick return in 2015, and 11.6 yards per punt return, all while contributing in other ways on special teams. Considering he can very occasionally chip in as a receiver, as well, he's likely to return for another season, and should be considered the odds-on favorite to handle these duties again in 2016.
The Falcons have all but made it clear that Hardy will be no better than the third receiver, even if he's expected to step into a larger role in general for the 2016 season. Hardy returned 63 punts in college, average about 10 yards per return over his last two seasons, and has the shiftiness to be an asset as a returner. The lack of experience and lack of game-breaking speed mean he may not be an upgrade over Weems, though.
His ball security issues will probably keep him away from this gig, but it's worth noting that he averaged 23 yards per kick return on 30 attempts in college, and he scored once on a return. Given his speed, and assuming he could get his fumbling issues under control, he'd be an intriguing option.
Someone not on the roster
The Falcons won't set out to get someone purely for his return skills, but there are players both in free agency and this draft class who might be able to chip in. Travis Benjamin jumps out because of his speed, his experience returning kicks, and the fact that the Falcons appear likely to go hard after him.
Who's your preferred returner?