Jahan Dotson’s return game could elevate Commanders’ special teams

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Dotson’s return game could elevate Commanders’ special teams originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Certain aspects of Jahan Dotson’s game jumped off the screen to Ron Rivera and Martin Mayhew. So much so that the Commanders’ front office felt comfortable enough trading back from the 11th to the 16th pick in the first round of the 2022 NFL Draft on Thursday to select the Penn State wideout.

Dotson’s polished route-running, ability to play bigger than his size, versatility on deep and shallow routes, and steady hands are his calling cards. But one aspect of his game that flew a bit under the radar during the scouting process could potentially elevate Washington’s special teams to the next level: punt returns.

When asked if Dotson’s punt return ability would be another way to get him involved on the field during his rookie year, Rivera harkened back to his overall game.

“A little bit, but we do expect to put him on the football field an awful lot,” Rivera said to the media after the pick was made Thursday night. “He was one of the guys that our offensive coaches had rated a lot higher, and so we spent a lot more time on him just because they felt so confident about him in terms of a fit. We had a couple guys that we had true fits on and he was one of the guys. So, like Martin said and I said, he’s one of the guys that we rated highly in the first round.”

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Dotson finished his collegiate career with the second-most receptions in Penn State history. Even despite shaky quarterback play and constantly being covered by the opponents’ best defensive backs, Dotson separated himself from the crowd and solidified his status as a key wide receiver prospect.

Punt returns, therefore, dropped a bit lower on his scouting report. But during his four-year career as a Nittany Lion, Dotson returned 25 punts for a stellar average of 13.5 return yards and one touchdown.

The pro game is obviously very different from college, but that 13.5-yard average would’ve ranked fifth in the NFL last year among returners with a minimum three attempts. He broke the internet with this 81-yard return against Michigan State during his junior year:

Dotson himself was asked about what he could contribute to the return game in Washington.

“I haven't talked too much on special teams but that opportunity's open,” Dotson said. “I would more than likely, more than gladly, take advantage of it.”

DeAndre Carter was the lone punt returner for the Commanders last year, posting an average of 8.4 yards per return off 16 attempts to become a Pro Bowl alternate. A team that for years has struggled to find an heir to Brian Mitchell, found a good fit and immediately lost him.

Now that Carter has departed for the L.A. Chargers, that position is open again and at least early in his career Dotson’s resume puts him in line to compete for a spot there, too.