In 2015, the Raiders’ punt- and kick-return game was mediocre at best. Oakland ranked 28th in the 32-team league in punt-return average (6.5 yards) with zero touchdowns; it ranked 17th in kickoff returns (23.9, zero TDs).
But it’s possible the cure for those woes is already on the Raiders’ roster.
Wide receiver/returner Andre DeBose was drafted by the Raiders in the seventh round in 2015 out of Florida but missed his rookie season because of an Achilles’ tendon injury. He spent the entire season on injured reserve.
At Florida, DeBose was a dynamic return man, averaging 26.7 yards for his four-year career on kickoffs and taking four all the way back for TDs. And, as a senior with the Gators, he returned 23 punts for a 14-yard average and a score.
He was little-used as a receiver, catching just 30 passes over four seasons. But once the ball was in his hands, he was extremely dangerous, averaging 18 yards per reception and scoring four times.
After being drafted by Raiders general manager Reggie McKenzie, DeBose, a 6-foot, 190-pounder, said, “I think I can make my impact a lot on the return game” and said he’s equally good at returning kicks and punts.
The question will be, can DeBose come all the way back from his Achilles injury that can be especially difficult for a player who relies on quickness and speed.
The other question is whether the Raiders can afford a one-dimensional return specialist who has shown little value as a wide receiver.
But DeBose is one player to keep an eye on when the Raiders begin offseason workouts and training camp this summer. If he’s healthy, he could be the electric jolt Oakland needs to juice its return game in 2016.