We’re gonna shoot you out of the gun and we’re gonna go right at the heart of the guy and stab him. You should have hazard duty pay for that kind of job.
- Pete Rodriguez, former Seattle Seahawks Special Teams Coach
With the news that Knile Davis, Devon Wylie and perhaps even Dexter McCluster are competing for the roles of kick and punt returners, Addicts are getting excited about finally having an effective return game. But there’s another oft-forgotten aspect to the Kansas City Chiefs’ special teams unit that we ought to take a close look at: who will be our game-changing gunner?
The gunner is that nut who breaks through the double team on punt coverage, races down the sideline, avoids 1-3 more blockers, and spears the punt returner just as he fields the punt. Former Atlanta Falcons Special Teams Coach and current Chicago Bears Special Team Coach Joe DeCamillis says, “It’s mayhem in about four seconds. You want to try to go off a double-team and blow the returner up. It takes a special kind of guy to do that.”
A successful gunner is part sprinter and part bull, and has an aggression that cannot be matched. Think Steve Tasker, the perennial Pro Bowler from the Buffalo Bills who practically invented the position of gunner. Tasker tackled so hard, he caused fumbles more often than not. And he was absolutely committed to getting to the returner – he simply would not be denied.
Gunners are almost without exception backup players – often defensive backs, wide receivers and even linebackers. A great one can change field position for you, cause turnovers and trigger swings in momentum.
Gunners are so undervalued that it is difficult to find statistics on them. The closest I found was Special Teams Solo Tackles. In 2012, the seven best players in this category were:
- Lorenzo Alexander, Washington, LB
- Spencer Paysinger, Giants, LB
- Bryan Braman, Houston Texans, LB
- Curtis Brown, Steelers, DB (tied for third)
- Anthony Allen, Ravens, RB
- Tramaine Brock, 49ers, DB (tied for fifth)
- Alan Ball, Texans, DB (tied for fifth)
This list is dominated by linebackers and defensive backs, with just one offensive player in the mix. Last year, no Chiefs player was in the top 100. It’s time for that to change.
Who will step up this year? We need a player who is fast and has that particular character trait of refusing to be denied. Here are some options:
- Jalil Brown: Brown is 6’1″, 204 lbs and runs a 4.52 forty. At the University of Colorado, Brown was a starter at cornerback, a team co-captain and a standout coverage player on special teams. He’s got the right combination of size and speed and has a history of special teams play.
- Shaun Draughn: Draughn is 6’0 and 205 lbs. In addition to running back duties at the University of North Carolina, Draughn also played special teams and even safety in some games. We all know that Draughn is a tough runner. He also has defensive instincts, which is a great quality for a gunner.
- Neiko Thorpe: Thorpe is 6’2” but just 185 lbs. He was known as a great tackler at Auburn; in his sophomore year, he started all thirteen games at cornerback, recording 84 tackles, with 56 of them being solo. Thorpe also played on special teams at Auburn.
- Edgar Jones: Jones, at 6’3″ and 262 lbs, is the only one on this list with NFL gunner experience. In 2012, he had a good season – seven tackles and two fumble recoveries on special teams, including that memorable return for a touchdown in the Tampa Bay game. In college, he led Division I-AA with 12.0 sacks, so you know he has the sort of indomitable will you need in a gunner. Coming out of college, Jones ran just a 4.75, but had enough game speed to return a few kicks and punts for Southeast Missouri State.
The incumbent, Edgar Jones, should get the edge this offseason. But I would love to see Neiko Thorpe and Jalil Brown compete for a chance at being the next great Chiefs’ gunner as well. Thorpe and Brown are faster than Jones, but Jones brings a proven track record that is hard to argue against. In the end, my favorite special teams player, Edgar Jones, wins out.
Addicts, who do you think can be the Chiefs’ next gunner?!