“Yeah, I think I’m a Pro Bowl-caliber returner,” Roberts said. “I’ve done well this year. I’m tops in the league in a lot of categories, so I think I’ve done a good job this year.”
That’s an understatement.
Roberts leads the NFL in punt return average (15.3 yards) among qualified players, and is tops in the league with 841 yards on kick returns. He also has eight returns of 40 or more yards — five on kickoffs and three on punts — while the next-closest player has no more than three.
“I don’t know too many returners in this league that are dual returners that have done what he’s done this year,” special teams coordinator Brant Boyer said.
“You have some guys that are slightly better on kick return or whatever. But if you look at the dual stats and what he’s done this year, I don’t think there’s a better returner in the game.”
Roberts has stabilized what has been a position of flux the past few years as the Jets tried the likes of Kalif Raymond, JoJo Natson, ArDarius Stewart, Jalin Marshall, Nick Marshall, Jeremy Ross and C.J. Spiller in the return game.
None could provide a consistently reliable option on special teams. The Jets signed Roberts in the offseason, and the 30-year-old veteran has been a big-time spark.
“Yeah, special teams has kept me in the league,” Roberts said. “And you know teams have seen that I can do the return stuff at a high level, so I still feel like I’m ascending. Age ain’t nothin’ but a number, but I feel good right now and hope I can just keep going.”
Roberts is a free agent after the season and there’s uncertainty as to the futures of both coach Todd Bowles and general manager Mike Maccagnan. But, Roberts, who is also a part of the offense as a wide receiver, has proven himself to be a key contributor for the Jets this season.
He had a 78-yard punt return for a touchdown in the season opener, and has been on the verge of scoring several times since on both punt and kickoff returns.
“He’s been great for us,” special teams standout Terrence Brooks said. “When he hits those holes, he just goes. We love blocking for him, man. We want to get him in the end zone. It’s been a while, but we’re going to try to get another one before the season ends.”
Roberts has three punt returns for touchdowns in his career, with the other two coming in 2016 with Detroit. He also brought back a kickoff for a score with Washington in 2015. He has been a consistent return threat since his college days at The Citadel, and was drafted by Arizona in the third round in 2010.
He has not been as much of a factor in the passing game as he was early in his career with the Cardinals and Redskins, but has certainly found his niche in the league.
“I still play receiver,” Roberts said, “but I definitely embrace the role and I feel very comfortable with it and I’m making it my life now.”
So is traveling, something not unexpected from a guy who grew up in a military family with both parents serving in the U.S. Army. He was born in Alaska, and moved to places such as Texas, South Carolina and St. Croix — after his parents were deployed to South Korea.
“I moved around a little bit,” he said with a smile. “I’ve heard others do a lot more than that, but it’s been fun.”
The travel bug was ingrained in him at an early age, so he has always wanted to explore. He set a personal goal of seeing all seven continents — North America, South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia and Antarctica — by the time he turned 30.
Larry Fitzgerald, his buddy and former Cardinals teammate, joined him on several of the trips — including to Antarctica in 2013.
“We said the same thing most do about Antarctica, like, nobody goes there, so why not just go?” Roberts said, laughing. “So we went on a cruise and stayed on a boat. Obviously, there are no hotels down there, but a lot of penguins, a lot of ice, a lot of snow. Saw some whales and a lot of glaciers. So, it was a fun experience.”
But the best trip he’s ever taken?
That’s an easy one: Australia — where he met his fiancee, Olivia Kenny, in 2014.
“Me and Larry were out there playing golf and we were in Melbourne and came back to Sydney for the flight back home,” Roberts recalled. “We went out one night, and met her and some of her friends and kept in contact with her and everything worked out.”
Now, the couple, who welcomed a baby boy in May, plan to be married in January after the football season.
First, though, Roberts might have to make room on the itinerary for a trip to Orlando, Florida, for the Pro Bowl.
“I don’t think there’s a guy,” Boyer said, “that’s done more than Roberts this year.”
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