To see the full list of the 20 best Seahawks in 2012, click here.
Leon Washington: best kickoff returner in the NFC in 2012. That’s not hyperbole, that’s fact. His 29-yard per return average was second only to Baltimore’s Jacoby Jones, would-be Super Bowl MVP if the voters didn’t have an eternal boner for white quarterbacks. His punt return average wasn’t nearly as effective, landing him 20th in the NFL. But, I would argue when it comes to punt returns, as long as you don’t fumble the ball, you’re way ahead of the game.
Leon Washington lost 1 fumble all year and that was on a kickoff return just after halftime against Carolina – a game the Seahawks would go on to win. So, right there, you can say confidently that Leon Washington never cost us a game. With regards to punt returns, I’d be happy if a guy fair catches everything just as long as he never fumbles. There isn’t much that’s more demoralizing than forcing another team to punt, only to give them the ball right back 40 yards down field. Except, I guess, fumbling a kickoff right after the other team scored, but as I said in the beginning of this paragraph, that isn’t how Leon lost his one and only fumble.
On the offensive side of the ball, Leon was non-existent. He rushed the ball for only 83 yards (on 23 attempts, for a 3.6 yards per carry average) and he only caught 4 balls for 31 yards. He scored as many touchdowns on offense (1) as he did returning kicks all year. For the record, his percentage of plays on offense was WAY below what I thought it would be going into the season. I don’t know what to make of that. Was the team saving him and his aging legs for what he does best – returning kicks? Were they so infatuated with Guns Turbin that the rookie ended up taking almost all the snaps away from Leon? Was Leon just simply phased out of this offense?
If you ask me, Leon has the best pass-catching hands of all the team’s running backs. Why wouldn’t you take advantage of that, especially late in games when you’re in a 2-minute offense? You got me.
What do I see for next year? Just about anything, to tell you the truth. If the Seahawks start spreading money around, they might find an easy way to save a buck would be eliminating Leon’s contract. He’s making a little over $3 million per year, and all he’s doing is returning kicks. Who’s to say the team doesn’t go out in the draft, in the 4th or 5th round, and pick up a speedster with no future as a wide receiver but a huge future as a return man? That’s pennies on the dollar. The risk, of course, is: do you trust a rookie? Everyone likes to downplay special teams … except when they start costing you ballgames. A return man prone to fumble, a long-snapper prone to hucking it over the punter’s (or holder’s) head, a field goal kicker who can’t seem to split those uprights anymore.
You might downplay Leon’s value now, but let’s talk when the new guy blows it in a big game against the 49ers.
As long as Leon still has that step, I say you hang onto him. At least one more year. He was first in the NFC for Christ’s sake! This wasn’t two or three years ago, this was 2012! I don’t see any reason why his productivity won’t continue. But, let’s say it doesn’t. Let’s say he does lose that step and becomes merely average. Merely average is still probably good enough, as long as he avoids turnovers. Suffer through just an “average” return game in 2013, THEN bring in the next big speedster.