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Falcons training camp battles: Securing the return gig

Who will the Falcons’ return specialist be in 2019? Someone has to do it.

In 2018, the Atlanta Falcons primary kick returner was Justin Hardy who had 20 returns for 147 yards and their primary punt returner was Marvin Hall, who had 26 returns for 216 yards. They weren’t terrible by any means, but it’s likely what led the team to sign Kenjon Barner and undrafted rookie Shawn Bane, and draft Marcus Green.

Marvin Hall is no longer on the team, having signed with the Chicago Bears during free agency. That leaves a return job open, with the question being, who claims it?

The Challengers

RB Kenjon Barner, 29, entering first season with Atlanta

Most fans will remember Kenjon Barner as the Carolina Panthers’ returner who got absolutely embarrassed by Falcons’ punter Matt Bosher. Despite that moment, he’s a player with a track record and an early favorite for a spot.

He signed with Atlanta this offseason and is in a position to not only compete for a special teams role, but also a running back spot. His usefulness on both offense and special teams could give him a leg up on his competition, given he has a strong camp and preseason. Barner has experience at returning both punts and kicks, where he averages 7.8 yards per punt and 23.2 yards per kick return.

WR/RB Marcus Green, 22, rookie

The other strong competitor and early favorite for many is rookie Marcus Green. The Falcons selected Green with the 203rd overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft, and it was likely due to his versatility which is definitely a plus on any roster. In college, Green not only ran the ball effectively but also was a quality wide receiver at Louisiana Monroe. His raw speed combined with his ability in the return game makes him the possible return specialist the Falcons could use for the next several years, as well as a speedy contributor on offense. As long as he stays healthy and has a productive camp and preseason, he could secure the return job.

WR Shawn Bane, 24, undrafted rookie

Last but not least, there’s Shawn Bane. Aside from having a pretty cool last name, Bane was a successful wide receiver at NW Missouri State and happens to be one of the best punt returners in school history. Even if Bane doesn’t land a roster spot, assuming he has a good summer, he could land on the practice squad with a shot to contribute in 2020 when the receiver depth chart figures to thin out.

The Winner is…

If someone is going to win it from the three, my money is on Marcus Green. I really like Barner as a person, and his NFL experience shouldn’t be ignored, but Green’s ability to play different roles will give him an advantage in winning the job. The return game is often overlooked, but it’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this summer.