The Atlanta Falcons have turned the returner gigs over to veterans with extensive experience for the last several years now, with Eric Weems, Devin Hester, and Andre Roberts all taking turns at the wheel. None of those players were major contributors on offense and with the exception of Hester, we had complaints with how they fared on returns, but the Falcons seemed comfortable with their choices.
This year may see a seismic shift in that habit, as the team is currently planning to have 26-year-old Justin Hardy, 24-year-old Marvin Hall, and 22-year-old Reggie Davis. None of them have spent much time on returns in the NFL, but all of them have college experience and every one of them is penciled in for a role on offense, making them logical competitors for the gig. There’s an element of the unknown here that would make this the first legitimately interesting competition for the kick and punt returner roles we’ve seen in a long time.
#Falcons coach Dan Quinn said Justin Hardy and Marvin Hall will battle for punt returner spot. Hardy and Reggie Davis for kickoff returner and possibly a drafted or undrafted rookie will be added to the mix.— D. Orlando Ledbetter (@DOrlandoAJC) March 27, 2018
I don’t have a great sense of who is going to win this. Hardy is as steady and (usually) sure-handed as they come, and even if he’s not the fastest and shiftiest player, he’d likely be a reliable option at either or both returner spots. Hall and particularly Davis are more dynamic but both had shaky moments (read: fumbles) on returns last summer, and will need to show they aren’t prone to hiccups to nail down those roles.
At the moment, the Falcons figure to carry at least two of these three players on the active roster in 2018, and if they don’t expend any significant draft resources at receiver, there’s a legitimate chance Hardy, Hall, and Davis will be competing for the #3, #4, and #5 receiver roles in training camp. Each has enough upside to be intriguing, and their special teams value ensures they’ll get a fair shake regardless of what the Falcons do at receiver in April.