2017 New York Jets Roster Preview — Return Man

Joe Malfa on the New York Jets options at returner for the 2017 season

Chad Morton, Jonathan Carter, Jerricho Cotchery, Justin Miller, Leon Washington, Brad Smith and the late Joe McKnight.

The Jets had an 11-season streak — from 2002 to 2012 — in which they had at least one kick return touchdown. Those seven players each had at least one during that span.

The 2013 season marked the conclusion of that streak and the dawn of a new one — a four season streak without a kick return touchdown.

Throughout training camp and the preseason, there will be a battle for the kick returning duties. Whoever wins the battle will be charged with providing a spark on special teams and putting an end to four years of futility in the return game.

Brisly Estime, undrafted free agent out of Syracuse, was one of the early front-runners, but he ruptured his Achilles in OTAs.

Jalin Marshall is the lone player on the current roster who returned kicks last season. He returned 13 kicks at an average of 24.9 yards per return, but his roster spot is far from guaranteed. Aside from the fact that he is suspended for the first four games, he will be battling with Quinton Patton and a slew of undrafted free agents for the seventh slot on the depth chart.

Quinton Patton also has an outside shot at the return job. The fifth year veteran out of Louisiana Tech has some experience returning kicks in the NFL. He has returned 10 kicks for 199 yards with his most productive season coming in 2015, when he returned seven kicks for 157 yards. Like Marshall, he will be vying for seventh on the depth chart, but he has a shot if he impresses in camp. Patton may actually have a leg up on Marshall because the argument can be made that Patton brings more to the table as a receiver.

The competition will likely come down to two newcomers — Elijah McGuire and ArDarius Stewart.

Neither McGuire nor Stewart had much experience returning kicks in college. McGuire returned three kicks in his freshman season at Louisiana-Lafayette for 46 yards. He had more experience returning punts, returning 29 at an average of 7.8 yards per return. Stewart returned 11 kicks over the last two seasons, averaging an underwhelming 17.4 yards per return.

Both rookies possess traits that could translate to success in the return game, including field vision, agility, acceleration, breakaway speed (4.49 40-yard dash for Stewart, 4.53 for McGuire) and a knack for making plays in the open field. Stewart gained 70 percent of his yardage after the catch. McGuire excelled catching passes out of the backfield, averaging 10.7 yards per catch on his 129 collegiate receptions.

Todd Bowles made note of the fact that he would be willing to reserve a roster spot for an explosive returner, but when the dust settles, McGuire will be the guy. He will handle the punt return duties and serve as the primary kick returner, with Stewart potentially lining up alongside him.

McGuire fell to the sixth round because of some limitations in the run game, but he has the ability to hit home runs as a return man and put an end to the streak of four straight seasons without a kick return touchdown.

Photo Credit: NewYorkJets.com