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Devil’s Advocate: Booting Brown From Punt Return Duties

You may recall for the past several offseasons that I ran an article series called The Optimist’s/Pessimist’s Take. I used it to explore different issues and topics the Pittsburgh Steelers were facing and took a positive or negative approach, examining each side in a separate article. This is essentially the same idea behind that, only condensed into one article for every topic.

In this version of the idea, I’ll be playing the Devil’s Advocate for both sides of the issue, looking at the best-case and worst-case scenarios in trying to find the range of likely outcomes of what is likely to happen for the Steelers relating to whatever topic the article is covering.

When it comes to the process of trying to construct a championship roster, the reality is that there are a ton of moving parts, and several ways to acquire said parts. There are a lot of things that can go right or wrong in not always predictable ways, so I think it’s helpful to try to look at issues by seeking out the boundaries of the likely positive or negative results.

Topic: Will THIS actually be the year that somebody other than Antonio Brown becomes the Steelers’ primary punt returner?

There are in my opinion two primary arguments to make for the affirmative and negative sides of this argument, so I’m going to lay them out in some semblance of an order. Perhaps in the future I’ll continue to use this format. Feel free to let me know if you prefer it this way in the comments.

Affirmative: Antonio Brown has the only proven track record of returning punts on the roster.

Quite simply, Brown is the only known commodity in the competition to return punts at the NFL level, as he has done it for a long time now, and he has the touchdowns—and celebrations of said touchdowns—to prove it.

Negative: Antonio Brown’s return numbers have declined, related to a more conservative approach.

It’s true that Brown was one of the great punt returners in the game as recently as two years ago, but he has averaged under 10 yards per return the past two years, and he calls for an extreme number of fair catches. A less conservative returner could yield better results.

Affirmative: Antonio Brown wants to retain his punt return duties.

The argument might simply come down to this. Your star player wants to participate in the return game. So you let him do it. He is not the only prominent player to do so. Patrick Peterson is just one example.

Negative: The Steelers have more legitimate options than in recent years.

Remember, the Steelers already dabbled early last season with giving Eli Rogers punt returns. As his head spins less, he could potentially handle that—especially if his role on offense is reduced. They drafted Demarcus Ayers for his punt return abilities and he can win a roster spot taking the job from Brown. Rookie Cameron Sutton is also said to have not only fielded punts during the spring, but looked good doing it.

Which side do you lean closer toward?

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