On October 24, 1993, Eric Metcalf set a Cleveland Browns record for the most punt return yards in a single game, when he had 2 returns for 166 yards (and 2 touchdowns) in a memorable 28-23 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. 20 years later, the Browns have a new record-holder: Travis Benjamin.
In the Browns' 37-24 win over the Bills last night, Benjamin had 7 punt returns for 179 yards and 1 touchdown. Granted, Metcalf's performance still outweighs Benjamin's a bit, but the impact that Benjamin had on the game was evident, and exactly the type of thing I envisioned him doing this season. His impact was so great, in fact, that the Bills released their punter today:
#Bills release P Shawn Powell; Powell kept kicking to Travis Benjamin; tackled him after 57 yard return, whiffed on 79 yarder for TD— Daryl Ruiter (@RuiterWrongFAN) October 4, 2013
If I may brag a little bit, in the SB Nation Q&A Season Preview just prior to the season starting, I was asked, "What franchise or NFL records could be broken this season?" I made a projection about Benjamin:
If my suspicions about Travis Benjamin as a punt returner are true, I think he could shatter Gerald McNeil's single-season record of 496 punt return yards in 1989, as well as the team's single-season record of two punt return touchdowns in a single season.
Benjamin is well on his way to shattering that record. Through five games, he already has 256 punt return yards, which puts him on pace for 819 punt return yards for the season. That would allow him to surpass great Browns punt returners like Joshua Cribbs, Gerald McNeil, Eric Metcalf, Dennis Northcutt, and Greg Pruitt, and Leroy Kelly. Even if teams start kicking away from Benjamin more, he is still dangerous: short punts help set up the Browns offense, and even if you angle Benjamin toward the sideline, he has the speed to run across the entire field before going up the field.