Return specialist

A return specialist or kick returner is a player on the special teams unit of an American football or Canadian football team who specializes in returning punts and kickoffs. There are few players who are exclusively return specialists; most also play another position such as wide receiver, defensive back, or running back. The special teams counterpart of a return specialist is a kicking specialist.

According to All-American Venric Mark, "Returning punts is harder. You have to judge the ball more, you have to know when to fair catch and when not to. You can't be a superhero and try to catch everything. With kickoff returns, you catch the ball and — boom — you're going."[1]

Devin Hester in 2007
Devin Hester fielding a punt during special teams practice at the Chicago Bears' 2007 training camp.

Kickoff returner

A kickoff returner (KR) is the player on special teams who is primarily responsible for catching the opposing team's kickoff and attempting to run it towards the end zone to score a touchdown. If the ball is kicked into his own end zone, the kick returner must assess the situation on the field while the ball is in the air and determine if it would be beneficial to his team for a return. If he decides that it is not, he can make a touchback by kneeling down in the end zone after catching the ball, ending the play and starting the next play at the 25-yard line to start the drive.

The kickoff returner position is often played by a small, faster player such as a cornerback, running back or wide receiver. Backup players frequently assume this role so starting players on the offense take fewer hits as the kickoff returner position, and can play their regular positions. In the days of one platoon football, the returner position was synonymous with the "safety man" - a quarterback or halfback.

In 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell proposed the idea of removing the kickoff play, and quoted that the "kickoff return is too dangerous for the game". The idea was met with criticism and the idea was eventually dropped.[2]

On October 27, 2013, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings returned the kickoff 109 yards and scored a touchdown, the longest run possible in NFL standards.[3]

In 2014, Devin Hester broke Deion Sanders' record for most kickoff return touchdowns, with 14. He currently remains the record holder.[4]

Notable kickoff returners

  • Red Grange was one of the sport's first iconic faces, breaking onto the national scene with a 95-yard kickoff return against Michigan.[5]
  • Gale Sayers was an All-Pro running back who also returned punts and kicked for the Chicago Bears. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. He currently holds the record for the highest career kickoff return average at 30.56 yards per attempt. Brad Oremland of Sports Central called him the greatest kick returner in NFL history.[6]
  • Deion Sanders played cornerback for multiple NFL teams and also played kick returner and a punt returner on special teams. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Sanders totaled 3,523 kick return yards in his career, including 3 touchdowns. Sanders held the record for most special teams touchdowns, 19 in total, until Devin Hester broke the record in the 2014 season.
  • Desmond Howard MVP of Super Bowl XXXI
  • Dante Hall played wide receiver and as a kick returner "was the most dangerous player in the NFL for a couple of seasons".[7]
  • Devin Hester played wide receiver and as a return specialist holds the record for the most all-time return touchdowns and most all-time punt return touchdowns. He is widely regarded as one of the greatest, if not the greatest return specialist in NFL history.
  • Glyn Milburn Holds the NFL record for most all purpose yards in a single game playing for the Denver Broncos (404 yards on 12-10-1995) with John Elway quarterbacking. One of the greatest return specialists of all time, he became the Chicago bears all time leading kick returner with 4,596 yards. And has 9,788 NFL career kick returning total yards. He also holds the Denver Broncos franchise record for the most kick returning yards in a single season 1,269, 1995.

Punt returner

Chris Sutton punt return Air Force vs Wyoming 2005
Chris Sutton of Air Force returning a punt in 2003.

A punt returner (PR) has the job of catching the ball after it is punted and to give his team good field position (or a touchdown if possible) by returning it. Before catching the punted ball, the returner must assess the situation on the field while the ball is still in the air.[8] He must determine if it is actually beneficial for his team to attempt a return. If it appears that the players from the punting team will be too close to the returner by the time he catches the ball, or it appears the ball will go into his own end zone, the punt returner can elect not to return the ball by choosing one of two options:

  • Call for a fair catch by waving one arm above his head before catching the punt.[9] This means that the play will end once the catch is made; the punt returner's team will get the ball at the spot of the catch and no return attempt can be made. The fair catch minimizes the chances of a fumble or injury because it ensures that the returner is fully protected from the opposing team, whose players may not touch the returner or attempt to interfere with the catch in any way after the fair catch signal is given. In the NFL, a fair catch also allows the fair catch kick to be used on the next play, even with no time on the clock remaining, to attempt a field goal via free kick. However, this option is rarely exercised.
  • Avoid the ball and let it hit the ground. Under this option the ball will go into the returning team's end zone for a touchback, go out of bounds and be spotted at that point, or come to final rest in the field of play and be downed by a player on the punting team. This is the safest option, as it completely eliminates the chance of a fumble and ensures that the returner's team will get possession of the ball. However, it also provides an opportunity for the punting team to pin the returner's team deep in their own territory by downing the ball or sending it out of bounds near the returner's end zone. This can not only give the return team poor field position, but can even lead to a safety.

Punt returners sometimes also return kickoffs and usually play other positions, especially wide receiver, cornerback and running back, although sometimes as backups. An analogous position exists in Canadian football, though differences in rules affect play considerably. See comparison of Canadian and American football for a complete discussion of the punt returner's role in the Canadian game.

See also

References

  1. ^ Greenstein, Teddy (2010-08-24). "Northwestern's Mark attracting notice: Freshman likely to get nod returning kickoffs and will get shot at punts". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 2012-12-11.
  2. ^ Rosenthal, Greg. "Roger Goodell mulls idea of eliminating NFL kickoffs". NFL.com. Retrieved March 17, 2013.
  3. ^ "Cordarrelle Patterson ties NFL record with 109-yard kickoff return". CBSSports.com.
  4. ^ "Devin Hester passes Deion Sanders for return TD mark". NFL.com.
  5. ^ "Red Grange, Football Hero of 1920's, Dead at 87". The New York Times. 29 January 1991.
  6. ^ "The Best Kick Returners in NFL History". sports-central.org. Retrieved January 12, 2016.
  7. ^ "Top 10 returners in NFL history". 20 December 2007.
  8. ^ "Football Special Teams: How to Return a Punt".
  9. ^ "Football 101: The Rules of NFL Football Fair Catch".
1973 All-SEC football team

The 1973 All-SEC football team consists of American football players selected to the All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) chosen by various selectors for the 1973 NCAA Division I football season. Alabama won the conference.

1979 All-Pacific-10 Conference football team

The 1979 All-Pacific-10 Conference football team consists of American football players chosen by various organizations for All-Pacific-10 Conference teams for the 1979 NCAA Division I-A football season.

1996 All-SEC football team

The 1996 All-SEC football team consists of American football players selected to the All-Southeastern Conference (SEC) chosen by various selectors for the 1996 NCAA Division I-A football season.

The Florida Gators won the conference, beating the Alabama Crimson Tide 45 to 30 in the SEC Championship game. The Gators then won the national championship, defeating the Florida State Seminoles 52 to 20 in the Sugar Bowl.

Florida quarterback Danny Wuerffel repeated as SEC Player of the Year.

1998 College Football All-America Team

The 1998 College Football All-America Team is composed of the following All-American Teams: Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News and Football News.

The College Football All-America Team is an honor given annually to the best American college football players at their respective positions. The original usage of the term All-America seems to have been to such a list selected by football pioneer Walter Camp in the 1890s. The NCAA officially recognizes All-Americans selected by the AP, AFCA, FWAA, TSN, and the WCFF to determine Consensus All-Americans.

1999 College Football All-America Team

The 1999 College Football All-America Team is composed of the following All-American Teams: Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, Football News, and CNNSI.com.

The College Football All-America Team is an honor given annually to the best American college football players at their respective positions. The original usage of the term All-America seems to have been to such a list selected by football pioneer Walter Camp in the 1890s. The NCAA officially recognizes All-Americans selected by the AP, AFCA, FWAA, TSN, FN, and the WCFF to determine Consensus All-Americans.

2000 College Football All-America Team

The 2000 College Football All-America Team is composed of the following All-American Teams: Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, Football News, Sports Illustrated and Rivals.com.

The College Football All-America Team is an honor given annually to the best American college football players at their respective positions. The original usage of the term All-America seems to have been to such a list selected by football pioneer Walter Camp in the 1890s. The NCAA officially recognizes All-Americans selected by the AP, AFCA, FWAA, TSN, and the WCFF to determine Consensus All-Americans.

2001 College Football All-America Team

The 2001 College Football All-America Team is composed of the following All-American Teams: Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, Football News and CNN-Sports Illustrated.

The College Football All-America Team is an honor given annually to the best American college football players at their respective positions. The original usage of the term All-America seems to have been to such a list selected by football pioneer Walter Camp in the 1890s. For 2001 the NCAA officially recognized All-Americans selected by the AP, AFCA, CNNSI, FN, FWAA, TSN, and the WCFF to determine Consensus All-Americans.

2003 College Football All-America Team

The 2003 College Football All-America Team is composed of the following All-American Teams: Associated Press, Football Writers Association of America, American Football Coaches Association, Walter Camp Foundation, The Sporting News, Pro Football Weekly, Sports Illustrated, ESPN, and Rivals.com

The College Football All-America Team is an honor given annually to the best American college football players at their respective positions. The original usage of the term All-America seems to have been to such a list selected by football pioneer Walter Camp in the 1890s. The NCAA officially recognizes All-Americans selected by the AP, AFCA, FWAA, TSN, and the WCFF to determine Consensus All-Americans.

Adoree' Jackson

Adoree' K. Jackson (born September 18, 1995) is an American football cornerback and return specialist for the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at USC, and was drafted by the Titans in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft.

Brett Veach

Brett Veach (born c. 1978) is an American football executive currently serving as the general manager of the Kansas City Chiefs in the National Football League. Prior to being the Chiefs general manager, he was the Chiefs' co-director of player personnel. He began his career as an assistant for the Philadelphia Eagles in 2004, eventually moving up and becoming a scout.Veach attended the University of Delaware, where he also played college football. From 1998 to 2001, he played running back, wide receiver, and return specialist for the Fightin' Blue Hens. Veach's teammates included quarterback Matt Nagy, whom Veach invited to join the Eagles in 2009. The two followed Eagles head coach Andy Reid to the Chiefs in 2013.

Clifton Smith (return specialist)

Clifton Smith, Jr. (born July 4, 1985) is a former American football running back and return specialist who played in the National Football League, Canadian Football League and United Football League. He played college football for Fresno State. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the National Football League (NFL) as an undrafted free agent in 2008, and has also played for the NFL's Miami Dolphins and Cleveland Browns.

College Football All-Southern Team

The College Football All-Southern Team was an all-star team of college football players from the Southern United States. The honor was given annually to the best players at their respective positions. It is analogous to the All-America Team and was most often selected in newspapers. Notable pickers of All-Southern teams include John Heisman, Dan McGugin, Grantland Rice, W. A. Lambeth, Reynolds Tichenor, Nash Buckingham, Innis Brown, and Dick Jemison.

Dante Hall

Damieon Dante Hall (born September 20, 1978) is a former American football return specialist and wide receiver who played nine seasons in the National Football League (NFL). He is nicknamed the "Human Joystick" and the "X-Factor". Hall was a fifth round draft pick out of Texas A&M University by the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2000 NFL Draft. Hall played for the Chiefs for six years before being traded to the St. Louis Rams on April 25, 2007 for the Rams' third and fifth-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft. Hall was ranked the 10th greatest return specialist in NFL history on NFL Network's NFL Top 10 Return Aces.

Desmond Howard

Desmond Kevin Howard (born May 15, 1970) is a former National Football League (NFL) player. Howard was known mostly as a return specialist but also played wide receiver. He is currently a college football analyst for ESPN.

He played football for the University of Michigan from 1989 to 1991 and won the Heisman Trophy in 1991. He played professional football in the National Football League for the Washington Redskins (1992–1994), Jacksonville Jaguars (1995), Green Bay Packers (1996, 1999), Oakland Raiders (1997–1998) and Detroit Lions (1999–2002). Howard was voted the Most Valuable Player of Super Bowl XXXI and is the first and currently the only special teams player to win the award. His team beat the New England Patriots in that game. Howard was ranked the ninth greatest return specialist in NFL history by NFL Network's NFL Top 10 return aces. On July 16, 2011, Howard was inducted into the 2011 class of the College Football Hall of Fame.

Hunter Renfrow

Hunter Renfrow (born December 21, 1995) is an American football wide receiver and return specialist for the Oakland Raiders of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Clemson.

Jabrill Peppers

Jabrill Ahmad Peppers (born October 4, 1995) is an American football strong safety and return specialist for the New York Giants of the National Football League (NFL). He played college football at Michigan, and was drafted by the Cleveland Browns in the first round of the 2017 NFL Draft. A standout athlete early in high school, he was named the Air Force National Sophomore of the Year in 2011. Sports Illustrated named Peppers one of their "Future Game Changers," a group of 14 young athletes who are considered to be the brightest talents of their respective sports. Peppers was named the Thompson-Randle El Freshman of the Year, Freshman All-American, and a Second-Team All-American in 2015. Peppers was named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year, Linebacker of the Year, Return Specialist of the Year, and an All-American in 2016.

Jet Award

The Jet Award, named in honor of 1972 Heisman Trophy Winner Johnny "The Jet" Rodgers, is awarded to the top return specialist in college football beginning with the 2011 season. Joe Adams was announced as the first winner on March 29, 2012. Beginning with the 2012 award ceremony, in addition to being given to the annual award winner, the Rodgers Award will be presented retroactively one decade at a time, starting with the 1959–1969 winners.

Joe Adams (wide receiver)

Joe Adams (born November 22, 1989) is an American football wide receiver and return specialist for the Texas Revolution of Champions Indoor Football (CIF). He played college football for the University of Arkansas, and was recognized as a consensus All-American. He was drafted by the Carolina Panthers in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft.

Mel Gray (return specialist)

This page refers to the Detroit Lions kick returner. For the St. Louis Cardinals wide receiver, see Mel Gray.Melvin Junius Gray (born March 16, 1961) is a former American football kickoff returner in the National Football League (NFL). He played with the New Orleans Saints, Detroit Lions, Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles. He began his professional career for the Los Angeles Express of the United States Football League (USFL), following his college football career as a running back at Purdue. Gray attended Lafayette High School in Williamsburg, Virginia, where he was teammates with future NFL players Lawrence Taylor and Ron Springs.

Gray is widely considered to be one of the greatest return specialists of all-time in the NFL. He holds the record for being the first, second, and third-oldest player to return a kickoff for a touchdown (33 years, 276 days; 33 years, 235 days; and 33 years, 221 days).

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