Who should return kicks for the Giants under the new kickoff rules in 2024?

New York Giants wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (80) returns a punt against Los Angeles Rams linebacker Michael Hoecht (97) and running back Royce Freeman (24) during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Giants’ special teams unit has had its ebbs and flows in recent seasons. Following a disappointing 2023 campaign, the Giants fired special teams coordinator Thomas McGaughey, replacing him with Michael Ghobrial this offseason.

Amidst the Giants’ changes on special teams, the NFL experienced a significant change to the third facet of the game. The league passed new rules that will change the format of kickoffs for the upcoming season.

The change in formatting could have an interesting effect on how teams construct their rosters and which archetype of players serve as return specialists this season. The Giants have a few intriguing kick-return choices on their roster.

Gunner Olszewski was signed to be the Giants’ return specialist

New York Giants wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (80) runs back a punt for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium
Dec 31, 2023; East Rutherford, New Jersey, USA; New York Giants wide receiver Gunner Olszewski (80) runs back a punt for a touchdown against the Los Angeles Rams during the fourth quarter at MetLife Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

The Giants’ special teams received a boost last season when the team added special teamer Gunner Olszewski to serve as their return specialist. He didn’t return a single kick, but Olszewski did return 23 punts last season.

On his 23 punt returns, Olszewski totaled 273 yards, averaging 11.9 yards per return, and added one touchdown which came at a decisive moment in a close game against the Los Angeles Rams in Week 17. He was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his performance in that game.

The Giants signed Olszewski to an extension this offseason, indicating they still view him as their primary return specialist. However, considering he only returned punts last season, and also considering the kickoff format has changed, Olszewski could be the team’s punt returner while a different skill position player takes over on kickoffs.

Could another skill position player take over on kick returns?

Nov 18, 2023; Evanston, Illinois, USA;  Purdue Boilermakers running back Tyrone Tracy Jr. (New York Giants) (3) runs with the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 18, 2023; Evanston, Illinois, USA; Purdue Boilermakers running back Tyrone Tracy Jr. (3) runs with the ball against the Northwestern Wildcats at Ryan Field. Mandatory Credit: Jamie Sabau-USA TODAY Sports

One player who could compete for the Giants’ starting kick return job is rookie running back Tyrone Tracy Jr. The former wide receiver converted running back is a tackle-breaking machine, forcing 46 missed tackles in 2023 on just 146 carries.

Tracy’s ability to break tackles and create explosive plays could translate well to the new kickoff format. Under the new rules, more kicks are expected to be returned, rather than conceded into touchbacks. Some teams may decide to put more skilled position players back on kick returns in an effort to create explosive plays and scoring opportunities on special teams.

Tracy has breakaway ability as a rusher which could make him a dangerous return specialist. He will likely compete for the role throughout the summer, alongside other skill position players, like wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie and fellow running back Eric Gray.

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