Andre Roberts has not only survived in one of the most dangerous jobs in the NFL. He has absolutely thrived.
A Pro Bowl selection each of the past three seasons, the Texans' new return specialist has remained remarkable durable and productive as he heads into this 12th NFL season.
Roberts plays his cards close to the vest, not revealing any secrets on how he manages to dodge tacklers and avoid hard hits and injuries to give his team optimum field position.
“Absolutely, but I can't give that away," Roberts said of his strategy. "Unfortunately, I can't tell you everything, but I do for sure. You can't give all your secrets away. A lot of treatment, a little bit of luck. This NFL league, you're going to have an injury here and there, but a little bit of luck, try to stay away from concussions, try to stay away from those big hits, and I try to do my best with that every year.”
Signed by Texans general manager Nick Caserio to a two-year contract with a maximum value of $6.7 million that included a $1 million signing bonus, $2.5 million guaranteed and an annual $100,000 Pro Bowl incentive, Roberts, 33, is getting better with time.
The former Arizona Cardinals third-round draft pick from The Citadel has averaged 9.0 yards per punt return for his career with three touchdowns and 25.8 yards per kickoff return with two scores.
“Well, he's been so productive during his career, and we brought him here for that reason," Texans coach David Culley said. "Basically, we expect him to be an offensive weapon for us, kickoff returns, whatever we have him doing from a punt return deal, and that same production that he's got has been a Pro Bowl player through his career, we're expecting the same thing from him here.”
Roberts chose the Texans as a free agent because of their financial commitment to him and the fact that Caserio emphasized special-teams in his roster-building approach.
“It's just a new opportunity, and that's how I take it," Roberts said. "Even when I'm with the same team, I take it as a new opportunity every single year to get better. Coming here, for me, is just a new opportunity, and like I said, they brought a lot of good special teams guys in here, so I know they're going to focus on that and we're going to try to be great this year.”
"That's what I'm trying to bring. Help out the field position battle. Get our offense in a good position so they don't have to drive the length of the field. A lot of that too is going to depend on our core special teams players. You've got a lot of guys in here that Caserio brought in, and we should be pretty decent.”
He averaged 30 yards per kickoff return and 9.9 yards per punt return last season for the Buffalo Bills. Roberts has caught 261 career passes for 3,044 yards and 15 touchdowns in 163 games with the Cardinals, Washington, Detroit Lions, Atlanta Falcons, Jets and Bills.
“A lot of pride," Roberts said. "As a player, you want to make the all-pro team, and the Pro Bowl is a bonus, but I take a lot of pride in being the best in the league, and I try to be the top of the league every single year that I'm playing.”
Roberts is arguably the Texans' most accomplished free agent acquisition this offseason.
The veteran return specialist has been named to three consecutive Pro Bowls, including one All-Pro selection in 2018 with the New York Jets.
"Any player that's in the return game, you want to be able to attack aggressively," Texans special teams coordinator Frank Ross said. "I think just watching the course of his career, especially in the kickoff and punt return game that he's had and even as a ball carrier on offense, he runs aggressively, attacks downhill, finishes runs as a returner and you just love to see that. Playing against him multiple times in our past, he's been a spot that, 'Hey this is an emphasis we've got to cover this guy.'"
Aaron Wilson has covered the NFL for 20 years and has previously written for The Houston Chronicle and The Baltimore Sun. He’s on Twitter: @AaronWilson_NFL and Instagram: @aaronwilson7128