Los Angeles Ram fans don’t have Tutu Atwell to kick around anymore after being ruled out for the season with a shoulder injury. The narrative now turns to who will replace him.
The NFL trade deadline has come and gone without the Rams dealing for a returner, DeSean Jackson is a dead man walking, fans cringe when they see Cooper Kupp lined up to receive kicks and Ben Skowronek just doesn't have the speed.
That leaves the practice squad. It would seem that the Rams have four players who might be able to handle return duties.
#1 J.J Koski
My own personal favorite. Koski returned both punts and kickoffs at Cal Poly, using 4.45 speed, stellar feet and good vision. He can step in for Atwell and Jackson at wide receiver as well. He’s a 100%er whose got relatively long arms, catches away from his body with good, soft hands, and blocks well down field. He was a team captain and team MVP in his senior year.
#2 Javian Hawkins
Hawkins is here strictly on projection. He did not return kicks at Louisville. The same skills that make him a natural for the Rams zone running game give him the potential to be an outstanding returner. He’s got the vision to see holes open in front of him, the quick feet to get to there and the explosive burst to get through. He immediately is up to full speed and can make cuts on the move. His 4.40 speed makes him a threat to score from anywhere on the field.
#3 Tyler Hall
He didn’t return a lot of kicks in college, but his production was border-line amazing. 28 returns for 887 yards, an average of 31.7 per run. He ran 4.38 at the Wyoming Pro Day, so he’s got the speed. A decision would have to be made on Hall, he’s been called up to the Rams active squad twice this season, so according to NFL rules, if he’s called up again he must stay on the active roster or be released and go through the waiver process before he could be re-signed to the PS.
#4 Landen Akers
He’s a long shot, but he’s already beaten long odds to make it to the Ram PS. Played mostly special teams at Iowa State, but didn’t return many kicks. He didn’t have much production at all in college. He did return kicks for the Rams in the preseason. He’s got good speed (4.47), athleticism, and obviously, has the grit.
Is it really that important?
So far in 2021, LA has 15 kickoff returns. That would project to about 34 for the season, or about 19 more returns.
There have only been 11 punt returns, so maybe there will 15 more at most.
It doesn’t seem logical to bring in an outside player for these few plays. The Rams would be prudent to keep the return game decision in-house.