The Steelers cut kick returner and backup running back Najeh Davenport. Davenport had spent the past 2 seasons as a mostly unproductive running back with the Steelers. This year, Davenport was brought back as an insurance policy when the Steelers suffered a rash of injuries to their running backs.
In his previous 2 seasons, Davenport gained a combined 720 yards rushing for the Steelers. He also had 377 receiving yards. However, despite being 6’1″ and almost 250 lbs., Davenport never played like a “big back”. Despite his impressive size, Davenport seemed to eschew contact.
This year, the Steelers used Davenport primarily as a kickoff returner. He was averaging 21.7 yards per kickoff return, and was leading the Steelers in total kickoff yardage.
Was it just me, or did Davenport always seem like a compromise solution? Each time I watched him perform, I always got the nagging feeling that the Steelers could do better. Each time Davenport had the ball, he always seemed to be running in slow motion. It still amazes me that he was the Steelers’ best kickoff returner. I’m not sure if that says something positive about Najeh, or something negative about the rest of the Steelers kickoff returners.
The one positive that Davenport did bring to the kick return game was his propensity to go north-south, rather than east-west. Davenport understood that the goal of a kick returner was to get the ball closer to the goal line. His technique was simple; catch the ball, and then run towards the goal line as fast as you can before the opposing team tackles you. Davenport’s speed was never impressive, but his understanding of high school geometry was. He remembered the mathematical rule that the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line. When Davenport returned kicks, he never really tried to evade tacklers. He simply ran in a straight line until he couldn’t run any more. He would usually gain about 21 yards before that would happen.
I’m not sad to see Davenport go. He never was a fan favorite. However, I hope that the Steelers’ remaining kickoff returners will learn something from Davenport. Go north-south rather than east-west. Afterall, the shortest distance between any two points is a straight line.
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