Dotson 'part of the competition' for Commanders' punt returner

Jahan Dotson

Arguably no player on the Washington Commanders roster had a better four-week stretch during OTAs and minicamp this spring than wide receiver Jahan Dotson.

Dotson, the 16th overall selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, earned rave reviews from just about everyone who's been asked about him. Head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Scott Turner have both repeatedly praised Dotson for his overall body of work during the offseason program, while new quarterback Carson Wentz has already begun to form great chemistry with the rookie wideout.

Come September, the Commanders are counting on Dotson to be a difference-maker on the offensive side of the football. However, there's one other area Dotson could make an immediate impact for Washington, too: in the punt return game.

"He's definitely in the discussion," Commanders special teams coordinator Nate Kaczor told NBC Sports Washington last Thursday.

During special team periods throughout OTAs and minicamp, Dotson was among a short list of players that fielded punts. Handling punt returner duties is nothing new for the wideout, as Dotson did such during his final two years in college at Penn State. In 2020 against Michigan State, Dotson even returned one punt 81 yards for a touchdown.

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Although he's yet to take a snap in the NFL, Dotson already figures to be an important piece in Washington's offense. And, in recent years across the NFL, players that have a large role on either side of the football have not been used in the punt return game on a regular basis. So, it would make sense if the Commanders wanted to use Dotson, the team's first-round pick, strictly on offense.

However, Kaczor believes that Dotson will be firmly in the mix for the punt return gig -- at least initially.

"When you have a really high-profile player, a lot of people ask: will you put him out there? We'll see. He's going to be part of the discussion and part of the competition," Kaczor said. "He's very capable and had very good success at Penn State. He's showing us nothing different than what we thought we were getting and I expect that to improve."

Following the Commanders' first OTA practice open to the media on May 24, Dotson was asked whether he wanted to handle punt return duties. While he admitted he has "no idea how that's going to shake out," the 22-year-old is completely open to the idea.

"Hopefully, I'll get to return some punts this year," Dotson said. "I feel like any opportunity to get the ball in your hands is a great opportunity. So, anyway I can help the team and make something shake back there, I'm willing to do it."

If the Commanders choose to use Dotson strictly on the offensive side of the ball, it wouldn't be the first time a talented special teams player was taken off of Kaczor's unit. During Kaczor's four seasons in Washington, some of the Commanders' most impactful players started on special teams before they became too valuable on their respective sides of the football.

"My Christmas tale continues going back to Terry [McLaurin] playing gunner, to Antonio Gibson and so on," Kaczor said. "Even Kam Curl played special teams for a little bit, but then the guy got good on defense. We'll do whatever's best for the team -- that's not coach speak."

Besides Dotson, two players that have stood out to Kaczor in the punt return game are rookies Jequez Ezzard and Kyric McGowan. Kaczor said both players have fielded over 300 punts throughout the offseason program, even if some came from the jugs machine. The special teams coach also listed second-year veteran Dax Milne and offseason signing Alex Erickson as a pair of other players capable of handling that role.

Ultimately, though, Kaczor understands that Washington's decision on who will be the team's punt returner won't happen anytime soon. The Commanders have all of training camp to go through first, with the final choice likely not coming until after the roster is trimmed to 53 players in late August.


"The personnel department here does a really good job keeping all options available," Kaczor said.

Like many of Washington's other coaches, Kaczor has been impressed with Dotson's entire skill set, not just his work in the return game. Whether Kaczor will get to use Dotson as a returner remains to be seen, but he's plenty excited about what the 16th overall pick can bring to the Commanders as a whole.

"You always like it when a talented player bears out what you thought they were when you had high hopes," Kaczor said. "Sometimes you might take a player and hope for development. Jahan's a pretty developed, high-end player at a lot of different things. Everyone is seeing it that's watched practice. He's not disappointed at all -- even in the punt return aspect."