ESPN’s Vaughn McClure reported earlier this week that Atlanta Falcons rookie cornerback Robert Alford will take over punt return duties from wide receiver Harry Douglas this week. Douglas is expected to take a bigger role on offense with the season-ending injury to Julio Jones and Roddy White being sidelined with a hamstring injury.
Alford got reps in the preseason as a punt returner, but struggled to impact there at times. He did manage to outproduce Douglas during the summer, averaging 10.2 yards on 5 punt returns versus Douglas’ 8.8-yard average on 4 returns. Alford overly relied on getting to the edge when working as a punt returner throughout the summer. Due to his speed, if he can beat the opposing team to the edge, he can be dangerous. Unfortunately, in the NFL that strategy proves only effective when punters out-kick their coverage, an uncommon occurrence. Douglas was more effective at making the first defender miss, and then getting upfield. That is a necessary skill for an NFL punt returner, even if it only results in a handful of yards per return. Some times as a punt returner you have to understand that not every return can be taken back for six, and settling for 5-10 yards is not a bad thing.
For Alford to have success, he’ll need to learn this skill. Coupled with his speed, as he may be among the two or three fastest players on the roster, that should make him a more effective return threat.