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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 (

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 -- -- 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.