With the selection of Jared Abbrederis by the Packers in the 5th round, fans all over Wisconsin gushed that one of their own was finally picked by the Packers. Fans were quick to heap praise on Abbreferis’ try hard attitude, underdog story and “little engine that could” mentality. Others however questioned the logic, Abbrederis was going into a loaded position and doesn’t have the physical tools to really contribute right away. How about as a returner?
Lacks elusiveness and is a straight line athlete. He will catch the ball and get some yards (what its blocked for) but he won’t be a good returner that can make plays, just a guy that won’t make mistakes. If your ok w/ that from a return man that’s up to you. I prefer a little more. – Stroh 2014/05/10 17:51
Challenge accepted! I think the question before addressing whether Abbrederis could be a good returner for the Packers is first to look at what kind of players the Packers typically like. I would argue that the Packers do not seem to be very fond of speed/jitter-bug returners that are currently in vogue like Dexter McCluster, Quintin Demps, Trindon Holliday, Tavon Austin etc (interestingly not many of these types of players did all that well in returning last year). Randall Cobb might be the closest player to that mold, but I would argue that Cobb had a much better and diverse skill set than any of the players I just listed. What I decided to compare combine/pro day results of notable Packers returners from 2008-2013 to the top ranked returners from the 2013 season based on ProFootballFocus metrics (I excluded some players who had incomplete combine/pro day numbers to make analysis a little more straight forward).
The combine/pro day drills I chose to look at were the 40 yard days, which measures straight line speed, the 20-yard shuttle and 3-cone, which measures agility/flexibility and finally the broad and vertical jumps, which measure acceleration. I didn’t analyze bench press for instance because I felt it was largely irrelevant to being a good returner, who typically don’t block or tackle anyone.
Overall, the results are pretty striking; there is no difference between Packers returners and the league leaders in 2013 when it comes to testing results. I ran Student’s t tests on every drill and all showed statistically no significance (which should be obvious just by looking at the graphs). So why do the Packers always have troubles with returners? The answer is a little surprising, the Packers really don’t have a problem at returner. According to ProFootballFocus, the Packers have had a top 13 returner 5 out of the last 6 years, with Will Blackmon ranking 3rd in 2008. In 2013 alone, Micah Hyde ranked as the 13th best returner in the league; while 13th obviously doesn’t mean one of the best, it also means that the Packers aren’t as terrible as many of us make them out to be.
Finally, we bring back our analysis to Jared Abbrederis, who may or may not be good enough to be a returner in the NFL. Based on his combine numbers, he falls well within range of all the drills analyzed, notably he would be among the fastest in the 20-yard shuttle and one of the worst in vertical jump. I would argue that Abbrederis’ biggest disadvantage in becoming a returner would be his long history of concussions, but for the sake of this analysis I didn’t factor that in.
My personal preference is I’d rather have a returner that gives Aaron Rodgers the ball at the 25-30 yard line every time versus a returner that sometimes takes it to the house while other times gets trucked at the 5 yard line. Arguably Abbrederis is a prime candidate in that sense since the player he’s potentially replacing, Micah Hyde, is also the same type of returner (i.e. steady and gets what’s blocked). In the end, Abbrederis hasn’t played a snap in the NFL yet and it remains to be seen how he fares, but I would predict Abbrederis already a front runner on returns.——————
Thomas Hobbes is a staff writer for Jersey Al’s AllGreenBayPackers.com.