In 2015 Jamison Crowder had an impressive debut season as the Redskins’ slot receiver. His 59 receptions broke the team record for a rookie receiver, one that was held by Hall of Fame receiver Art Monk. The fourth-round pick out of Duke was entrenched as a key contributor on offense by midseason.
Crowder also had duties as the team’s punt returner. In this area he was not nearly as productive. He had 30 returns and he averaged 5.3 yards per return. That was the lowest average in the league among players with enough returns to qualify.
Fast forward to this season. Crowder is keep up his good work as a receiver; he’s on pace to catch 67 passes. But his production as a punt returner has improved exponentially. He is averaging 27.7 yards per return. In 2015 his longest return was 16 yards. This year in five games he already has surpassed that on four returns. Crowder has taken puts back for 17, 21, 50, and 85 yards. The last one, of course, went for a touchdown against the Ravens and earned him NFC special teams player of the week honors.
The TD return came in a game the Redskins won by six points. The 50-yarder was against the Giants and it set up a field goal in a game that the Redskins won by two. One could make the case that they don’t win either of those games in years past.
So what is the difference between this year and last year?
“Obviously they’re going a really good job of blocking compared to last year,” said Crowder. “And this year I just approached it a little differently. Last year I was more catching it and trying to see where I wanted to go but now I’m just catching it and going. They’re doing a really good job of blocking and getting on guys and opening up lanes I can run through.”
He said that he is used to the speed of the NFL game now and that allows him to use his instincts rather than thinking when he catches the ball.
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It’s doubtful that Crowder will keep up his average of 27.7 yards per return. Since 1962 the highest average among qualifying returners is 18.8 by Lemar Parrish of the Bengals in 1974. More recently, Leodis McKelvin of the Bills averaged 18.7 per return in 2012.
But if he gets a few more long returns he could threaten the team record held by Dick Todd, who averaged 17.0 yards in 1941. The post-merger team record is 14.1 held by Brian Mitchell in 1994.