The Jets announced that they have signed free agent return specialist Darius Reynaud to their active roster to replace the injured Josh Cribbs. Jets fans might not know much about Reynaud, so I’ve been reviewing footage from the past few seasons to try and assess what he brings to the table.
The 28-year old Reynaud is a 5’9″ and 201-pound return specialist who was an undrafted free agent wide receiver in 2008 out of West Virginia. However, since entering the league, he’s mainly been used as a running back whenever he has played on offense. He’s best known as a kick returner and has three career touchdowns, all of them in 2012, when he led the NFL in combined kick and punt return yards and was second in the league for yards per touch.
After the jump, a review of Reynaud’s career and observations from having looked at film from the last few seasons to evaluate some of his strengths and weaknesses.
Who is Darius Reynaud?
In college, Reynaud was an exciting, playmaking receiver and kick returner for West Virginia. Despite an impressive display at the combine, where he ran a 4.48 forty and put up some of the best numbers among all receivers, he went unpicked in the 2008 draft and was later signed by the Minnesota Vikings.
Reynaud played in three games as a rookie, but only saw action on one snap on offense. However, he did get a chance to return eight kicks, averaging over 25 yards with a long of 49 yards. In his second season, his role expanded and he ranked 10th in the NFL in punt return average, although he did also fumble three times. He also saw action on 30 snaps on offense, where he was targeted once but did not record a catch. After the 2009 season, the Vikings converted him to running back and, while he only averaged 3.3 yards per carry in preseason, he did have this, a spectacular 76-yard kickoff return to set up a touchdown.
At the end of the 2010 preseason, Reynaud was traded to the Giants for whom he played nine games. He was used exclusively as a kick and punt returner (having been used as a receiver in camp and preseason), but was a slight disappointment and failed to make the team in 2011. Nobody picked him up until after the season was over, but he was able to revitalize his career with the Titans, who signed him in January 2012 and converted him back to running back again. In preseason, Reynaud averaged 6.1 yards per carry and rushed for this 21-yard touchdown, also scoring on this 85-yard punt return in the same game.
While Reynaud didn’t have a major impact on offense during the 2012 regular season (68 yards on 21 touches), he had an early impact on special teams with this 105-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 3. In the last game of the season, he had two punt returns in one game against the Jaguars (here and here) and when all was said and done, he was 4th in the NFL for punt return average and led the league in combined punt and kick return yards.
In 2013, he had a disappointing series of mistakes and was waived after a week seven game against the 49ers where he had a muffed punt recovered for a touchdown and dropped a pass. He did have a 35-yard punt return against the Jets in week four though.
17 carries, 33 yards
Six catches, 39 yards
10.9 yards per catch
56% catch rate
Career kick return average 22.5 with one touchdown
Career punt return average 9.7 with two touchdowns
Six career fumbles (one lost) – all as a punt returner
Three career tackles
Four 40+ yard kickoff returns and two 40+ yard punt returns
Based on all the footage watched, here was what Reynaud brings to the table, divided into categories:
Usage - As noted, Reynaud has been both a receiver and a running back over the course of his career, but was most recently a running back in 2012 (although 27% of his snaps still came while lined up in the slot or out wide). He has not received a direct snap in his career so far, so I would not expect him to be used in wildcat-type situations unless he’s the guy split out wide who runs the Jet Sweep.
Running Ability – Reynaud’s open field running is terrific and he has some good moves. However, nobody is ever going to mistake him for a between the tackles runner. There’s some impressive physicality here though, albeit on the opposing punter. He generally avoids tackles rather than breaking them, which can be an asset when catching short passes as well as carrying the ball.
Pass Protection – Reynaud stayed in to block 11 times in 2012 and did not give up any pressure. Most of these were quick throws though and he didn’t exactly look comfortable. Obviously he lacks size.
Scheme Familiarity – If he does get a chance to play on offense then Reynaud should pick up the west coast principles pretty easily since Tennessee and Minnesota both used west coast style offenses while he was there.
Hands - Since he has experience as a receiver, he’s obviously a potential pass-catching threat out of the backfield. Having said that, he has muffed six punts over the course of his career and had a bad drop against the 49ers in his last game with the Titans. Based on my recollection of his college career, he is capable of making some great catches.
Deep threat – Reynaud did score a 64-yard touchdown in a preseason game in 2009, running down the seam to make the catch 30 yards downfield and running it in. However, that was a coverage mix-up as nobody was covering him and the safety failed to get over in time. Since entering the NFL, the Titans did try and hit him on two downfield throws, but they both fell incomplete. He might have a shot at getting deep if matched up with a linebacker.
Blocking - Reynaud is a versatile player, but I didn’t really see much from him in terms of blocking to make any kind of assessment either way.
Routes - With his experience as a receiver, Reynaud’s route running would obviously be more developed than most running backs. Most of his pass catching in the NFL has been on simple dump-offs so we haven’t seen much of that though. However, in 2011, the quality of his route running was praised early on in Giants camp. That only translated to two catches for 14 yards in preseason though.
Passing – One commenter asked – tongue in cheek, I assume – if Reynaud can play quarterback. Obviously he’s too small and, as noted, doesn’t have any experience of receiving snaps. However, he did throw a good pass on this gadget play, so maybe that’s an option if they decide to throw the kitchen sink at anyone.
Instincts – Reynaud is an instinctive runner, but there were lots of mistakes when fielding (or choosing not to field) punts. On the basis of his career as a whole, Reynaud is a guy with whom you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Special Teams – Unlike with Cribbs, Reynaud’s impact on special teams tends to be confined to the return game. He has three tackles in his NFL career, two of which came when he was a rookie.
Injuries – Reynaud doesn’t seem to have had any major injury issues since being in the league, although he did miss a couple of games with hamstring issues in 2009 and again in 2010. He was healthy throughout 2011 even though he did not play.
Reynaud is a guy I really enjoyed watching in college and if you clicked some of the links throughout this article, you’ll have seen some glimpses of his playmaking ability. However, as noted, he is prone to the occasional mental error, which can be frustrating. If he can maintain his focus, he’s capable of being one of the better return men in the league.
I don’t know if the Jets will use Reynaud on offense, since they already have Alex Green as cover. However, the Jets need someone to return kicks because their existing options are key members of the offense and defense. It’s interesting that they went out and picked up an established veteran rather than just bringing aboard an untested youngster, which would have been slightly cheaper. Perhaps that’s a sign they haven’t given up on the season yet.
Some stats from PFF were used in the completion of this article.