While he ended the 2022 season serving as the Pittsburgh Steelers’ primary slot receiver, most anticipate that the team will restock the wide receiver room this offseason and have somebody else in that role. There’s a fair chance, however, that he will continue to serve as their primary return man, and he believes he can do more there than he did last year.
“I felt like I left some meat on the bone”, he told Teresa Varley for the team’s website about his productivity as a kick and punt returner. “I wanted to get in the end zone, kick return, punt return touchdown. That kind of upsets me because you never know when an opportunity is going to happen”.
Sims did have an 89-yard kick return in week five against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, bringing the ball down to the 12-yard line before he was brought down. In typical fashion, the offense was limited to a field goal in spite of a five-yard gain on first down.
He admitted that he pulled his hamstring a bit on that run and never got another chance throughout the year to hit the open field as he did on that play. It was his first game in full return capacity after the coaching staff benched Gunner Olszewski, though he did get one kick return a week earlier.
He was activated for that game to take over, but he suffered an eye injury before kickoff. That caused them to limit what they would ask him to do; for obvious reasons, you don’t want a one-eyed return man trying to field balls flying down from the heavens.
Overall, he returned 17 kicks on the season for 434 yards, a respectable 25.5-yard average, but his punt return numbers left much to be desired. He had just 105 return yards on 19 punts, a mere 5.5 yards per. The muffed punts and fumbles did not help those numbers.
“Some teams weren’t even kicking the ball to me”, he added, and there seems to be some truth to that. After returning seven kicks for 154 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 11, he only got to return three more kickoffs for the remainder of the season despite playing every game. He averaged exactly 25 yards on those three final kick returns.
“It’s just kind of upsetting because I know this game is based off production, so I just want to produce, produce, produce”, Sims said. “Next year when I do get opportunities before they stop kicking it to me, I want to score touchdowns”.
Only four players in the NFL last season recorded 30 or more kick returns, although 18 players had at least 20 returns. Sims ranked 17th in total kick return opportunities, which is not insignificant given that he only dressed for 12 games.
The Steelers have not had a kick return go for a touchdown since JuJu Smith-Schuster housed one in the regular season finale of his rookie year back in 2017. It’s been a full five years since then. Is Sims the man who can end the dry spell? Will he even have the opportunity to do so? They’ll have to re-sign him first.