You might have noticed in our Cincinnati Bengals "Bubble Watch" series from this offseason (which will make a return Wednesday) that receiver and return specialist Brandon Tate was among those we believe could be on the fringe of making the 53-man roster this preseason.
In that item I said the odds of him making the team were "high," but explained some compelling reasons why he might not. Chief among them? His lacking presence as a receiver in the Bengals' offense over the years, and Cincinnati's ability to potentially replace him in the return game. It's because of his strengths as a kick returner, though, that make it likely Tate will be retained.
That leads us to Wednesday's factoid: 25.13.
That number represents the average yards per kick return the Bengals had last season. Since Tate returned all but four kicks last season, the number above could be viewed as a direct reflection of his special teams play. On his 35 kick returns, Tate averaged 26.11 yards.
At 25.13, the Bengals in 2013 trailed only four teams in kick return average. Kansas City paced the league at 29.91 yards per return. The Ravens, Jaguars and Cowboys also averaged slightly more yards than Cincinnati. Of course, only one of those teams, the Chiefs, made it to the postseason with the Bengals.
We talk all the time about field position and its importance on helping dictate offensive flow and rhythm. Not surprisingly, the Bengals ranked in the top 10 in the league last season in average starting field position following a kickoff. Thanks in large part to Tate's returns, the Bengals started their average post-kickoff drive just inside their own 25.
The field position had to have some positive impact, even if it was minimal. Cincinnati had 47 offensive touchdowns. The Broncos, Eagles and Saints were the only teams with more.
Along with fielding kickoffs, Tate lined up regularly as the team's punt returner after a number of injuries left the Bengals thin at cornerback. With their numbers at that position low, usual punt returner Adam Jones was removed from the punt return team in an effort to keep healthy.
Perhaps Tate's most memorable play in 2013 came when he was filling in at punt returner. His 29-yard punt return in overtime at Buffalo put the Bengals in good enough position for kicker Mike Nugent to make the game-winning 43-yard field goal just four plays later.
So I bring up the Bengals' comparatively strong kick return average from last season as another reminder as to why Tate (and his 14 career receptions the past three seasons) might actually make the roster when it gets trimmed at the end of August.