Caldwell: Good WR, Bad KR

Andre Caldwell was a very nice find for the Bengals in the third round of the 2008 draft. He’s been so solid as a wide receiver that he’s almost made us forget about the gaff the team made in drafting Jerome Simpson in the second round of the same draft when DeSean Jackson was available. Simpson has been such a bust that he makes Chase Coffman look like a steal in comparison. At least Coffman is a rookie and was a third-rounder. Simpson is a second-year player and still can’t make the active game-day roster? (Then again, Simpson does have the excuse that he has some pretty good WRs ahead of him on the depth chart in Cincinnati. Coffman on the other hand is getting beat out by guys off the scrap heap.)

Anyway, let’s try and get this thing back on the road. I swerved there and got way off the point.

The crux of this blog entry is what to do about the Bengals’ situation at kick returner. Because as good as Caldwell is as a receiver, he’s horrible running back kickoffs.

How horrible? Try 34th in the NFL on for size.

Yes, among players with 10 or more kickoff returns this year, Caldwell ranks 34th in the NFL with an average of 19.4 yards per return.

Caldwell seems to have no natural instincts for this role. He runs seemingly at half-speed (pull out any game you have DVR’d this year, watch a Caldwell kick return and you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about) and rarely makes a man miss or breaks a tackle. There is something to be said for being patient and letting the lanes develop. But the best kickoff returners bust it up in there as fast as they can, while Caldwell looks like he’s running in slow motion out there.

Is rookie running back Bernard Scott the answer? I don’t know. But it’s time to give him a shot. He’s had two returns and averaged 27.5 yards per return (that places him 17th in the NFL among all players with at least one return). Unless he has poor ball security, there is no way he could be worse than Caldwell. And don’t forget Caldwell has lost a kickoff return to a fumble this year.

This Bengals team is on the verge of being very good this year. And maybe they are just very good, period. But the “little stuff” (not that I consider it little) like having a mediocre-at-best kick returner – and that’s putting it mildly – is something that could back to haunt the team.

Andre Caldwell is not a kick returner. Repeat 100 times.

End of rant.

(Disclaimer: This is not an indictment of Caldwell as much as it is the Bengals’ coaches and front office for putting him in this position. The young man is a very good receiver and that’s the role he should be focusing on. He’s already surpassed Laveraneus Coles as Carson Palmer’s second-favorite target behind Chad Ochocinco. And it’s clear Caldwell is not comfortable returning kicks and is not productive. Tell me what I’m missing.)