49ers special teams: College kick returners and future success

One of the pluses of Twitter is the ability to post quick thoughts, and to have on-going dialogues with other tweeters.  I have tweeted a bit more frequently lately, although not nearly as much as a lot of folks out there.  Anyways, one of the tools that has been created is called TweetDeck.  It provides a single place where you can view certain lists of people you follow to see what they're saying.  One of my lists includes Maiocco, Barrows and Mike Sando (ESPN.com).

In looking over my TweetDeck yesterday, I noticed an interesting discussion between Maiocco and Football Outsiders about return men.  Whether you like him as a player or not, C.J. Spiller has been at the center of a lot of discussion as a potential 49ers draft pick due to the 49ers need for a boost to their kick and punt return units.  MM made some comments about punt and kick returning, which inspired the following exchange:

FO tweet to MM: Don't think college return ability has any correlation with pro ability.

MM response: There are rookies annually among NFL return leaders.

FO response: Sure, but they're not necessarily the best college returners. Cribbs - best return guy ever - didn't return in college.

FO response #2 (before MM response): Guys like Bush and Sproles were elite return men in college, haven't been that way in pros.

MM response: You said Bush & Sproles haven't been elite returners in NFL. They have four TD returns apiece. That seems pretty elite to me.

FO response: Take a look at leaders for given year -- http://bit.ly/9Dd3Ok -- leaders are usually too valuable to return in NFL or mediocre.

This discussion raises several interesting questions.  FO's comment about Joshua Cribbs is particularly interesting.  Although, while Cribbs wasn't a return-man in college, he definitely seemed like an all-around great athlete.  Somewhat lost amidst all this discussion of drafting C.J. Spiller is whether it would be a better strategic decision to take an "athlete" later in the draft and see what they can do with that person.

I realize when this area is such a big concern for the team you don't necessarily want to go cheap on it.  At the same time, the team has some other areas of concern that might be a better investment of first round money, particularly if the team remains sold on Glen Coffee as a sufficient backup RB option.  I'm not saying this is necessarily the case, but it's certainly something to consider.

While teams go into the draft with a bevy of information, there is a certain element of risk no matter where you draft somebody.  The risk of a CJ Spiller is whether he can develop into an NFL-caliber return man, particularly given the potential price tag.  The risk of not taking Spiller and instead rolling the dice on a lesser known talent in the 5th or 6th round is that if that player can't be turned into a quality return man, you could potentially waste another year with a poor return game.  Risks abound whichever course you choose to take.

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