One of the difficult decisions the New York Giants made in setting their initial 53-man roster was not keeping veteran wide receiver/punt returner Jamison Crowder.
That was, at the time, understandable. Even though the 30-year-old Crowder is an accomplished NFL player who entered the season with 415 career receptions, he is a slot receiver. The Giants were flush with those — Parris Campbell, Sterling Shepard, Wan’Dale Robinson, Cole Beasley.
The gamble in letting Crowder go was always going to be that he is also an accomplished, quality punt returner who entered the 2023 season with a career average of 8.2 yards on 95 punt returns.
Not keeping Crowder left the return job to rookie fifth-round pick Eric Gray, who had only nine punt returns and four kickoff returns in college for Tennessee and Oklahoma.
Gray has averaged 4.7 yards on six punt returns with two muffs and just 14.4 yards on four kickoff returns.
Crowder, who landed with the Washington Commanders, is currently fifth in the NFL with an average of 14.3 yards per return and no muffs or fumbles. He had a 61-yard return last Sunday in Washington’s victory over the Atlanta Falcons.
“He’s a dynamic returner and I think what he’s done is he’s given our guys a little bit of a jolt, little bit of a shot in the arm knowing that you have an explosive guy back there,” Commanders coach Ron Rivera said this week. “When I know they’re on the huddle on the sidelines and [special teams] coordinator [Nate] Kaczor talking to him, he’s telling them, ‘Hey, just give this guy a chance. Just give this guy a shot.’ They did on Sunday, and we saw the result.”
Rivera also lauded Crowder’s willingness to help younger teammates.
“What’s really neat to watch [with] him is the professionalism at which he approaches everything, how he’s working with a lot of our young guys,” Rivera said. “He’s been working with [WR] Kaz Allen, helping him in terms of trying to learn and grow and develop as a slot receiver, but also as a punt returner. So, it’s been kind of cool watching the veteran guy help the young kid out.
“He’s got a little sage wisdom to him. I think the guys respect that from him as well. He’s been great to have around.”
Crowder had limited opportunities with the Giants during training camp, with the team more or less admitting from the beginning that they were hoping to have Gray handle the punt and kickoff return jobs.
“It was just more of trying to get (running back) Eric Gray comfortable,” said special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey. “We knew what Jamison was. He’s done it in the past and we knew he had the ability to do it, but just trying to get Eric back there comfortable doing it again.
“He’s [Crowder] a good player. I’m not going to take anything away from Jamison. Jamison is a really good player. Like I said, he did a good job while he was here. When he was at Buffalo, he’s done it. Jets, he did it. He’s having a good year. He is. He had a 61-yarder last week. That was a big return. So, he’s doing a good job for them.”
Yes, he is, and the Giants will have to deal with that on Sunday.