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Top 30 Returners

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Top 30 Returners

Out of 2550 kickoffs last year, 1444 or 57% of them ended in a touchback. There were 2148 punts and only 876 were returned, thus 59% of them were not returned. Not only are nearly 60% of all return opportunities not being returned, but you have to consider most teams use more than one kick returner and a few punt returners. Sharing the duties makes it extremely hard to find consistency or reliability in the return game. Less than half the teams in the NFL have a dual returner and of the fifteen that currently do, many of them are roster bubble candidates are heavily involved on offense or defense and likely will not be a dual returner. Nonetheless, we give our best effort in projecting the top 30 returners of 2020. Brandon Powell, WR, Atlanta Falcons

2020 Projected Return Yards: 930 kick return, 130 punt return

2019 Return Yards: None

Powell went undrafted in 2018 and signed with the Detroit Lions. He played six games for them that year. He was on the Falcons’ roster last year, but did not play in any games. Powell has an uphill climb to even make the final roster. If he should be released, then WR Olamide Zaccheaus or rookie WR Chris Rowland will likely step in as the primary dual returner. Whoever it is, the Falcons should fare much better than the 25 returns they had in 2019.

Andre Roberts, WR, Buffalo Bills

2020 Projected Return Yards: 600 kick return, 320 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 887 kick return, 223 punt return

In his last four seasons, Roberts has returned 136 kickoffs for 3445 yards as well as 98 punts for 994 yards and three touchdowns. While Roberts had the most punt return attempts over the past four seasons last year, his kick return opportunities dropped off significantly. In addition, Roberts has to make the final roster to validate this projection.

Pharoh Cooper, WR, Carolina Panthers

2020 Projected Return Yards: 750 kick return, 150 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 690 kick return, 129 punt return

Cooper is a viable dual returner threat. He has a career average of 24.3 yards on 86 kick returns and 9.9 yards on 62 punt return attempts. He only has one kick return touchdown (2017) and not partaking on offense does hurt his fantasy value a little bit. Still, if your league gets points for return yards, he has some value.

Isaiah Ford, WR, Miami Dolphins

2020 Projected Return Yards: 725 kick return, 120 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 6 kick return

WR Jakeem Grant held the dual returner role for part of 2019. This season, Grant could step into the starting slot wide receiver role with a number of Dolphin WRs opting out of 2020. This can also be said of Ford too. Thus, the loser in the competition for starting SWR will likely be the dual returner. As of this writing, it looks like Ford will be the dual returner.

Deonte Harris, WR, New Orleans Saints

2020 Projected Return Yards: 630 kick return, 210 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 664 kick return, 223 punt return

Harris returned 24 kickoffs for an average of 26.8 yards with a long of 51 yards in 2019. More impressively, he returned 36 punts for an average of 9.8 yards and a touchdown. Harris had over three times as many punt returns as he had fair catches. Thus, he is not afraid to take risks and that means higher reward possibilities.

Jamal Agnew, CB, Detroit Lions

2020 Projected Return Yards: 650 kick return, 160 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 629 kick return, 175 punt return

Agnew is a dual return option for the Lions. He is also trying to learn the new position of WR in training camp. This could be a problem if he struggles in the transition as he could be a roster bubble candidate. Even with these concerns, one big concern will be opportunities in 2020. The Lions only returned 23 total kickoffs and 31 punts.

Chris Claybrooks, CB, Jacksonville Jaguars

2020 Projected Return Yards: 810 kick return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 338 kick return, 1 kick return

Claybrooks is an IDP that will have to earn his way onto the Jaguars’ roster returning kickoffs. If he fails to make the final roster, then WR Dede Westbrook gains value as a dual returner for Jacksonville. Westbrook did have 132 return yards on 23 attempts last year.

Cordarrelle Patterson, WR, Chicago Bears

2020 Projected Return Yards: 800 kick return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 825 kick return

Patterson is a threat on any returnable kickoff. While he is not a dual returner, he has a career average of 29.9 yards on 204 kick returns. Patterson has seven kick returns for touchdowns in his seven career seasons. He has a kick return for a touchdown in back-to-back seasons and five in his last five years.

Mecole Hardman, WR, Kansas City Chiefs

2020 Projected Return Yards: 550 kick return, 250 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 871 kick return, 167 punt return, 1 kick return TD

Hardman is a dual return candidate, but is getting serious competition from RB Darwin Thompson in training camp. In addition, WR Tyreek Hill will be called upon in critical situations to handle punt return duties. So while Hardman has plenty of involvement on offense and is a dual return threat, he also has downside in that he could share return duties.

Diontae Spencer, WR, Denver Broncos

2020 Projected Return Yards: 570 kick return, 210 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 644 kick return, 208 punt return

Denver claimed Spencer off waivers just before the start of 2019. He ended up being their primary dual returner. Spencer handled 71% of the Broncos’ 21 kick returns and averaged 29.1 yards. He added 208 yards on 26 punt returns as well. The one down note here is that he had more fair catches (29) than he did punt returns (26).

DeAndre Carter, WR, Houston Texans

2020 Projected Return Yards: 600 kick return, 175 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 522 kick return, 214 punt return

Carter ranked third in the NFL with a 9.7 yard punt return average in 2019. He also ranked ninth with 214 punt return yards. Carter was the only player to handle a kick or punt return for Houston in all of 2019. Unfortunately, he only had 14 kick return opportunities and totaled just 308 kick return yards.

Tyler Ervin, RB, Green Bay Packers

2020 Projected Return Yards: 600 kick return, 160 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 267 kick return, 115 punt return

Ervin has to make the final roster to meet this high ranking. He has fared well catching the ball out of the backfield in training camp and is challenging for a spot on the team. If he does make the final cut, he will likely be a change of pace option on offense and handle the dual returns.

Nsimba Webster, WR, Los Angeles Rams

2020 Projected Return Yards: 500 kick return, 200 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 57 kick return, 18 punt return

Webster was a late season addition last year. He was with the Rams for their last five games in 2019. If Webster fails to make the final roster, then RB Darrell Henderson should return kickoffs and rookie WR Ernest Edwards likely handles punt returns.

Brandon Wilson, S, Cincinnati Bengals

2020 Projected Return Yards: 675 kick return

2019 Return Yards: 625 kick return, 1 kick return TD

Here is another IDP special. Wilson is a roster bubble candidate with a plethora of safeties on the team. Still, it is hard to not consider his 2019 kick return average of 31.3 yards. In fact, his extended average was 31.250 yards and just short of the team record of 31.259 held by Adam Jones.

Kenjon Barner, RB, Baltimore Ravens

2020 Projected Return Yards: 400 kick return, 250 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 673 kick return, 267 punt return, 1 punt return TD

When WR De’Anthony Thomas opted out of 2020, the Ravens went out and signed Barner in the hopes he could handle kick return duties and possibly be their punt returner as well. Barner did suffer a lower body injury returning a punt in practice on August 21 and we need to make sure it was not a serious injury. If Barner is seriously hurt, then rookie WRs James Proche and Devin Dunernay may handle kick and punt return duties respectively.

Desmond King, CB, Los Angeles Chargers

2020 Projected Return Yards: 500 kick return, 150 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 449 kick return, 118 punt return, 1 punt return TD

King has fantasy value in leagues that use an IDP. We have to be careful, though, as King could be traded or released before the season starts. In addition, he is not a guaranteed dual returner heading into this season. In fact, he shared kick return duties last year. He handled just under half of the Chargers’ kick return attempts and all but one of their punt returns

Steven Sims, Jr., WR, Washington Football Team

2020 Projected Return Yards: 480 kick return, 160 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 845 kick return, 26 punt return, 1 kick return TD

Sims was the primary kick returner for Washignotn in 2019. While he is a viable dual returner option in 2020, he will likely play a bigger role on offense. So rookie RB Antonio Gibson could cut into his kick return yards. Still, Sims ranked third on the team in targets last year and all but one of the team’s 33 kick returns. WR Trey Quinn did handle most of the punts in 2019, so Sims is not a lock to be a full time dual returner.

Richie James, Jr., WR, San Francisco 49ers

2020 Projected Return Yards: 400 kick return, 225 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 692 kick return, 264 punt return

James broke his wrist in June and is currently on the Active/Non-Football List. The team is saying he likely will not be ready for the start of the season, but is expected back sometime in September. James handled the dual returns for the 49ers and averaged 21.9 yards on 20 kick returns and 8 yards on 33 punt returns last year. Keep an eye on his status and make sure he remains on the Active and not Reserve NFI list.

Corey Ballantine, CB, New York Giants

2020 Projected Return Yards: 600 kick return

2019 Return Yards: 256 kick return

The Giants kick return competition is wide open with about four or five players battling it out. The choice may not be made until opening day. Ballantine handled close to a fifth of the Giants’ kick returns in 2019. He averaged 25.6 yards on his ten opportunities and had a long return of 52 yards. The Giants were hit hard at the cornerback position due to off field issues and an opt out. Thus Ballantine could be forced into the starting lineup and removed from kick returns.

Braxton Berrios, WR, New York Jets

2020 Projected Return Yards: 350 kick return, 200 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 48 kick return, 240 punt return

WR Vyncint Smith was one of two primary kick returners the Jets used in 2019, but was by far the best returner. He averaged 29.9 yards on ten opportunities and had a near touchdown on a 78 yard return in Week Nine of last year. Unfortunately, he suffered a core muscle injury and will miss 5 to 8 weeks. This will help Berrios secure a roster spot and he could be the dual returner for a couple of months into the season.

Nyheim Hines, RB, Indianapolis Colts

2020 Projected Return Yards: 300 kick return, 250 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 123 kick return, 285 punt return, 2 punt return TDs

Hines cut loose for two punt return touchdowns in 2019, but only had six kick returns last season. WR Zach Pascal led the team with ten kick returns. Thus, Hines is not a lock to be a dual returner in 2020. The addition of rookie RB Jonathan Taylor pushes Hines down a spot on the offensive depth chart. Thus, Hines could see the field more in the return game.

Jalen Richard, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

2020 Projected Return Yards: 450 kick return, 100 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 209 kick return, 21 punt return

This is not a stable or reliable returner option. Rookie RB Lynn Bowden, Jr. is making noise in training camp as he challenges for the primary kick return job. While Richard is a dual return option, he only averaged 20.9 kick and 3.9 punt return yards in 2019. These numbers need improvement or the rookie could get an early call to replace him in the return game.

Kalif Raymond, WR, Tennessee Titans

2020 Projected Return Yards: 400 kick return, 150 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 403 kick return, 45 punt return

Raymond is a dual returner, but is also a roster bubble candidate. WR Adam Humphries had three times as many punt return opportunities as Raymond had in 2019. Plus rookie RB Darrynton Evans is pushing Ryamond hard in training camp for the kick return job. This could cost him his roster spot, so be very careful when considering Raymond.

K.J. Osborn, WR, Minnesota Vikings

2020 Projected Return Yards: 350 kick return, 175 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 201 kick return, 255 punt return

Minnesota has RB Ameer Abdullah as their current kick returner. Yet, he is on the roster bubble and could be released. If he is waived, then Osborn is a candidate for dual return duties. Osborn only averaged 20.1 yards on ten kick returns for the Miami Hurricanes last year. Yet, he had an electrifying 15.9 yard average on 16 punt returns.

Tony Pollard, RB, Dallas Cowboys

2020 Projected Return Yards: 450 kick return

2019 Return Yards: 245 kick return

Pollard only averaged 17 yards on 14 kick return attempts last season. That has to drastically change for him to remain the primary kick returner. A number of players are lined up to challenge him this August, so this is by no means a lock projection.

Andy Isabella, WR, Arizona Cardinals

2020 Projected Return Yards: 400 kick return

2019 Return Yards: 105 kick return

Cardinals have a number of players competing for the kick return duties and will likely not choose their primary kick returner until just before opening day. Isabella averaged a mediocre 21 yards on five attempts in 2019. He is vying for the job along with a number of younger players like WR Johnnie Dixon (roster bubble), RB Chase Edmonds, and rookie RB Eno Benjamin.

Jalen Reagor, WR, Philadelphia Eagles

2020 Projected Return Yards: 200 kick return, 75 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 72 kick return, 312 punt return, 2 punt return TDs

The rookie WR averaged 20.8 yards on 15 punt returns and scored two TDs for the Texas Christian Horned Frogs in 2019. With RB Miles Sanders stepping into the lead running role, RB Boston Scott likely handles kick returns. Still Reagor could see dual return opportunities throughout 2020.

Tarik Cohen, RB, Chicago Bears

2020 Projected Return Yards: 265 punt return, 1 TD

2019 Return Yards: 325 kick return, 302 punt return

Cohen only handles punts for the Bears. Still, he does it well and efficiently. Cohen ranked second overall in the NFL with 302 yards on 33 attempts while fair catching just 19 punts. His longest punt return went for 71 yards, so he is a threat to hit paydirt.

Lynn Bowden, RB, Las Vegas Raiders

2020 Projected Return Yards: 200 kick return, 60 punt return

2019 Return Yards: 220 kick return, 53 punt return

Bowden handled dual returns in college last year. He had 273 combined return yards for Kentucky in 2019. Bowden may not be the primary returner for the Raiders, but he will likely get called upon during the season to handle one or both return jobs.

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Football Team

2020 Projected Return Yards: 250 kick return

2019 Return Yards: 645 kick return, 1 kick return TD

Gibson averaged 28 yards on 23 kick return opportunities last year with the Memphis Tigers. He added a kick return for touchdown as well. WR Steven Sims, Jr. was the primary kick returner for Washington last year, but should play a bigger role on offense. So Gibson is trying to secure the kick return duties in August.

A savvy veteran of fantasy football since 1990, Thomas specializes in IDP and Special Teams. When he is not delving into fantasy football, Thomas works as an instant or slow-motion replay technician for national and regional clients.