The kick-return specialist is set to return.
The versatile De’Anthony Thomas figures to become the Chiefs’ primary kick returner this season with Tyreek Hill shedding that duty to become more of a presence on offense. Special-teams coach Dave Toub considers the Chiefs fortunate to have the Thomas option.
“Every team in this league would love to have a guy like De’Anthony Thomas,” Toub said.
In his three seasons, Thomas has 35 kickoff returns with a career 25.8-yard average. Thomas led the team with 15 kick returns last season, but Hill stepped in and was magnificent, with 14 returns for a 27.4-yard average and a touchdown.
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Hill also returned two punts for scores and owned a 15.2-yard average.
This year, with Hill likely having a greater presence in the offense at wide receiver — he led Chiefs wideouts with 61 receptions last season, and Jeremy Maclin has moved on — his special teams’ contributions likely will be reduced and Thomas, one of Toub’s favorites, will be a beneficiary.
“Last year, De’Anthony Thomas ended up becoming one of our best special-teams players,” Toub said. “He’s not afraid. He’s 167 pounds, and he plays like a 200-pounder. He’s not afraid to stick his head in there in kickoffs and make tackles. He’s a tough gunner with great quickness and top end speed.”
And there’s this high praise …
“Pound for pound he’s the toughest player we’ve got,” Toub said.
Others who will get looks in the return game are wide receiver Demarcus Robinson and rookie running back Kareem Hunt.
Toub said the Chiefs will miss inside linebacker D.J. Alexander, who made the Pro Bowl as a special-teamer last season. Alexander was traded to the Seahawks for inside linebacker Kevin Pierre-Louis.
“At the end of the day, I think both teams are going to get better through this,” Toub said.
A rookie who could make the biggest impact on special teams? Toub said to keep an eye on linebacker Ukeme Eligwe.
“I’ve already got him starting on punt team,” Toub said.