We’ve solved perhaps the biggest problem on the 49ers’ roster going into the first week of the regular season against the Detroit Lions. San Francisco’s two top punt returners going into the opener are WR Brandon Aiyuk and WR Mohamed Sanu. Neither of those feels like a viable long-term solution, so we’ve come up with a creative way for the 49ers to overcome the problem seemingly created by the Chicago Bears when they snagged Nsimba Webster off waivers from the 49ers.
49ers general manager John Lynch on Wednesday spoke with reporters and unveiled that the team definitely has an awesome plan at punt returner that they are super happy with as soon as they figure out what it is:
Well, we have a plan and there’s a number of guys who’ve been working on that during the preseason. We feel quite good about our plan. I will say that they say imitation is the greatest form of flattery. Well, I think in this business, so is getting your players poached off the waiver wire. And that happened. [Chicago Bears WR] Nsimba Webster is a guy who does do that, and also had some value as a receiver and special teams. But you know, we’ve got a plan there and I’ll leave that to Kyle to kind of announce who it is and what it is and the depth there and all that when he chooses to. But we’ve thought about that a lot. That’s important to us. We want to make that an asset for this team, and I feel very strongly about it.
The translation here looks something like the shrugging emoji.
Luckily we’ve come up with something better than throwing a starting receiver or a 32-year-old with exactly 10 punt returns in his career back there.
The 49ers should simply not use a punt returner. Instead they should put on another player to get after the punter and for the most part just forego the punt return altogether. This is what’s known in the making stuff up biz as a ‘foolproof plan.’
Consider the pros of this strategy:
1. No more muffed punts! The other team is literally giving the 49ers the ball by punting. A punt returner could drop the ball, or a short punt could bounce off a blocker, or any of the myriad disasters that can happen when fielding a punt goes wrong.
2. An extra player to rush the punter gives special teams coordinator Richard Hightower some added flexibility for plays designed to block the punt.
3. It eliminates a problem in the 49ers’ roster. They don’t need to worry about the machinations required to get a regular punt returner outside of Aiyuk and Sanu on the active roster.
Now consider the cons:
1. No return man gives the punter more leeway to kick line drives that get more roll and put the 49ers in worse field position.
2. The possibility of a big return is eliminated.
However, the 49ers wouldn’t have to employ the no returner strategy on every kick. If they needed a big play or wanted to ensure good field position in a key spot they could put Aiyuk back deep to catch the kick. It just doesn’t need to be every time.
As for the possibility of a big return, the 49ers averaged 9.0 yards per punt return last year, and their two longest returns (21 and 20 yards) were by River Cracraft and Trent Taylor, both of whom are no longer with the club.
This is a foolproof strategy that solves all of the 49ers’ punt returning problems and surely has no other cons other than the one listed above. Vote ‘Nobody’ for 49ers’ 2021 punt returner.