Nov 11, 2012; Minneapolis, MN, USA; Detroit Lions running back Stefan Logan (11) returns a kickoff 17 yards to open the game against the Minnesota Vikings at the Metrodome. The Vikings win 34-24. Mandatory Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Stefan Logan’s most recent kick return gaffe has caused fans and media members to call for his release, but the Detroit Lions are currently unwilling to remove the lackluster return man from the roster. Dave Birkett had a piece in the Detroit Free Press on Sunday where he stated that the Lions wanted more production in the return game but lacked viable alternatives:
"As much as the Detroit Lions may want to make a change in the return game, it doesn’t appear that they have the personnel to do it.Lions coach Jim Schwartz conceded he’ll “certainly look at everything” in an effort to get more production out his return units before Sunday’s season finale against the Chicago Bears. But injuries have left the Lions with few options beyond current returner Stefan Logan."
After reading this I wanted to know just how much value the Lions were getting from Logan. With the help of Pro Football Reference’s play finder, I found the 82 kickoffs that were either (1) returned by Logan or (2) taken for a touchback (removing the kicks that were received in the field of play by an upback). Here’s the breakdown:
- 55 of the kicks went for a touchback.
- 18 of the kicks were caught (by Logan) on or inside the goal line and were, on average, returned to the 19.9 yard line (22.9 yards per attempt average).
- 9 kicks were caught (by Logan) in the field of play and were, on average, returned to the 25.1 yard line (19.3 yards per attempt average).
Or, worded another way, 73 of these kicks (89%) could have been returned just as effectively by Riley Reiff as Stefan Logan. Slightly more effectively, actually, if Reiff would simply take a knee every time the ball came into the end zone (this would have netted the Lions about two yards total for the season). Simply put, there are 52 other players currently on the roster (and any number of fans in the stands) that could replicate 89% of Logan’s total kickoff return production by being little more than a warm body.
The only portion of his game here that might not be easily offset were the nine balls that he caught in the field of play, but his 19.3 yard return average doesn’t look stellar to me. I’m not really in the position to say what is or isn’t good here — the 25.1 yard line seems like reasonable starting field position to me — but we’re only looking at a total of nine opportunities here, and chances are someone like Mike Thomas or Joiquie Bell could (at least) come close to these numbers.
Of course, kickoffs are just one half of Logan’s job. He also returns punts where he owns a somewhat middle of the road 9.3 yard per return average. Of course, Logan also calls for a lot of fair catches — 6th most among qualified punt returners — which helps to artificially inflate his average. When factoring in all punt return opportunities (fair catches included), Logan ranks 22nd out of the 28 qualified returners in average yards gained. Color me unimpressed.
52 options for replacement is more than a bit of hyperbole — Riley Reiff really isn’t going to return kicks — but any sort of fifth string-type running back or wide receiver could likely fill in without anyone noticing a drop off in production. The Lions are apparently getting half the solution right, they’ve announced they’re taking Logan off of kick and punt return duties, but he probably shouldn’t be on the roster at all at this point. The Lions are hurting for depth at the wide receiver position and, although he’s made six catches on the year, Logan really can’t help in the capacity. His roster spot probably could have, should have been used on a scrap-heap guy that can actually run routes and make catches.
If Logan isn’t going to be effective in the return game then he’s taking up a roster spot that could be otherwise used to address depth concerns. Perhaps this season is lost and it doesn’t really matter, but there’s no way that Logan should remain on the team into next season.