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Bobby Rainey was named the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week yesterday, the first Buc to win that award since Micheal Spurlock in 2009 did so for this return. Rainey's award isn't just good news for him and a reward for one week's worth of production, but it seems to signal that the Bucs have found a reliable punt returner for the first time since Spurlock.
For years, the Buccaneers struggled to find a returner. Since 2010, the Bucs have had 12 players return punts. None of them managed to return one for a touchdown, only five of them averaged more than 10 yards per punt return. Most only got a few opportunities to return punts. Some of those players, like Sammie Stroughter, saw their careers as returners ended by injury. Others, like Preston Parker and Trindon Holliday, due to ball security issues. None of them were reliable.
So far, Rainey has been reliable. He has 22 punt returns for the Bucs and has averaged 11.55 yards per return. Compare to Spurlock averaging just 8.01 yards per return over 41 attempts. Only two players over the past five years have averaged more per punt than Rainey, and those two combined for just five attempts and three muffs.
In addition, Rainey looks pretty good this season. Looking at all NFL returners, his average of 13.3 yards per punt return ranks sixth, and his longest punt return is shorter than that of those returners who outrank, suggesting that his punt return prowess is consistent and not the result of just one freak return.
In other words: the Bucs may finally have found a punt returner again.