The Browns have attempted to make their special teams (ST) units good. Two kickers were drafted in past years, punters have come and gone, and the kick return game was supposed to have been solved with JoJo Natson - who was injured more than he actually played.
Mike Preifer is a very good ST coach. He just hasn’t had the correct pieces to work with.
So for this year, kicker Cade York was drafted and two free agents were signed to help this group: P Corey Bojoquez plus KR Jakeem Grant, Sr.
Folks have raved about the accuracy of York and the leg strength of Bojoquez. But could the best roster addition to ST this off-season be Grant, nicknamed “Mighty Mouse”?
Like a lot of NFL players, Grant (5’-7”, 171 pounds) grew up in Texas. He went to Dr. John Horn High School in Mesquite, Texas which was a new school which opened in 2000. Along with two other brothers, the Grant household participated in sports.
Grant was a standout on the track team with blazing speed. He participated in the 4x100 plus the 100 meters. He also played running back in middle school but was switched to wide receiver in high school where he also returned kickoffs and punts. Mesquite Horn’s football team made the playoffs all four years Grant went to school there.
He was clocked many times in the 40, but his best time was 4.25 (not a misprint). He squatted 435 pounds and had a vertical leap of 40”.
In his senior year at just 155 pounds, he was named First Team 5A All-State. He led Mesquite Horn in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns. He was second in rushing yards plus rushing touchdowns.
As a three-star recruit according to Rivals.com, Grant had offers from Pittsburgh, Vanderbilt, Tulsa, Wake Forest, Louisiana Tech, Texas Tech, Iowa State and Colorado State.
He chose Tulsa, then in January decommitted. He quickly had visits with Texas Tech and Pittsburgh and soon afterwards announced he would attend Texas Tech.
Grant redshirted his first year in 2011. The 2012 season he was utilized quite a bit as he played in all 13 games as a receiver and also a kickoff return man. He had 32 receptions for 284 yards with an 8.9 yards per reception. His six returns garnered a 39.5 yards per return average to which he scored two touchdowns.
His next two seasons he was a full-time starter with combined stats of 132 receptions for 1,734 yards with 10 touchdowns. In addition, Grant totaled 42 kickoff returns for 915 yards and a combined average of 21.8 yards per return. These two years he was named Honorable Mention All-Big 12.
In 2015, Grant was named to the Biletnikoff pre-season watch list. He ended that season with a career-best 90 receptions for 1,268 yards with 10 touchdowns. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns among his 39 returns for 1,017 yards and a 26.1 yards per return average. At the end of his Texas Tech career, Grant had set the school record for career yardage plus career return touchdowns which remain school records today.
He was named Second Team All-Big 12 plus Second Team All-American.
His scouting report on Pro Football Focus:
“If nothing more, Grant deserves a shot in the NFL as a kick returner. He’s not going to be a No. 1 WR, but he has shown the ability to create big plays when he gets the ball in his hands. His success in the league ultimately might come down to how creative the coach of the team who drafts him is, but at the very least, it should be exciting to watch him on special teams.”
He was invited to the Combine and had an official 40 time of 4.34. However, on his pro day, he was hand-timed at 4.13 in familiar confines.
2016 NFL Draft, Round 6, pick #186
Even though Grant was drafted, the fact that he was taken in the sixth round by the Miami Dolphins was a sore spot with him. His camp was expecting him to go a lot sooner.
Despite a good training camp, he was buried on the depth chart at wide receiver, but was the Dolphins punt and kickoff return man. In Week 5, the speedster paid off with an electric 74-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans. On the NFL Network show “NFL Now”, the return earned the top spot on a list of “Top 5 Most Athletic Plays.”
He played sparingly at the receiver position catching passes on the receiver screen or running an occasional jet sweep. The return game is where he showed his value.
While with Miami, he returned 101 punts for 978 yards with three touchdowns. Grant also had 110 kickoff returns for 2,699 yards, two touchdowns and a 24.8 yards per return average. But his role on offense was very small. Plus, he had fumbling issues.
In early October of 2021, Grant was shipped to the Chicago Bears for a sixth round pick. He played in 11 games for the Bears with 18 punt returns and 21 kickoff returns. He scored one touchdown on a sensational 97-yard return in Week 14 against the Green Bay Packers on a play in which he was initially surrounded by six Packer defenders.
That return set a new Bears franchise record for the longest punt return for a touchdown and the 10th longest in NFL history.
Chicago did use Grant more as a receiver in his short stint there. While scoring that long punt return against the Packers, in the same game he had 46 receiving yards and a receiving touchdown. In Week 13, Grant had five catches for 62 yards and one score against Arizona.
Despite the short season with the Bears, he was named to the Pro Bowl plus garnered a Second Team All-Pro nod, his second straight as a return man.
Cleveland inked Grant in March to a three-year deal worth $13.8 million. He is 29-years old.
So what did the Browns get in Grant? He has instant speed and hits his top gear with his first few steps which will usually eliminate most pursuit angles. In other words, Cleveland just added a big dose of speed to the return game.
Grant was the third best punt returner in 2021 and sixth best kickoff man.
“We are excited about what Jakeem Grant brings on both offense and special teams,” head coach Kevin Stefanski said. “He’s a versatile, dynamic player that has great speed. He’s been one of the top returners in the NFL and we are excited to utilize his skillset.”
Needless to say, the Browns have struggled in the return game. It was supposed to be rookie Demetric Felton at both positions, but he did not show any consistency at either. Donovan Peoples-Jones had horrible numbers returning punts and speedster Anthony Schwartz just did not have any college experience with either. Only RB D’Ernest Johnson found any type of success, but that was minimal.
The signing of Grant may become the best addition to this year’s roster. He is a proven commodity at both punt and kickoff return with incredible speed.
There have been plenty of sensational return men for the Browns over the decades: Josh Cribbs, Eric Metcalf, Leroy Kelly, Gerald McNeil, Dennis Northcutt, Bobby Mitchell, Dino Hall and Travis Benjamin.
Hopefully soon, this database will have Mighty Mouse listed.