2012 Punt & Kick Return Studs, Depth Charts
Note: 4for4.com does not project return yardage across the board. Due to position turnover and the unpredictability of return yardage on a weekly basis, projecting return stats will add noise and may actually hurt your draft. If you really want to estimate projected return yardage and TDs, you can check out PC Drafter which comes free with your 4for4 subscription. It allows you to enter return forecast numbers. Be very careful here, perhaps do only a minimal edit on a few of the top return men noted below.
Although there are more than 50 returners in the league, only a select few are worthy of draft consideration outside of extreme scoring formats. In each case, the player in question should receive a small bump on your draft board.
Below I highlight the top fantasy options worthy of a bump in return yardage leagues. At the bottom is a table containing current punt and kick return depth charts for all 32 teams. Keep in mind, return depth charts are fluid and often change weekly or even in-game. A player with a small role on offense and a large role in the return game may even see that role lessened as their offensive role expands.
The Best of the Best
New Orleans running back Darren Sproles could provide you huge numbers in a PPR league that also includes return scoring. He's projected as the Saints' kick and punt returner, which will allow him to pile up yardage and opportunities to take it to the house. Sproles broke a NFL record with 2,696 all-purpose yards last season.
Keep an eye on Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown. Not only is he currently pegged as the team's No. 2 wideout, it looks as though he will be handling kickoffs and punts as well. Brown is already considered a potential sleeper by many now that Hines Ward has retired and his return duties only add to his value. Brown had 2,211 all-purpose yards in 2011 and that number should climb next season. (Update 8/29): It's looking like Emmanuel Sanders will return both kicks and punts. Brown is currently listed as the No. 3 kick returner and punt returner)
It's easy to remember the first game of 2011 when Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees put on a scoring clinic. It was also a coming out party for Randall Cobb. Not only did he catch a 32-yard touchdown, he housed an 108-yard kickoff. Cobb has a great opportunity to overtake James Jones as Green Bay's No. 3 wide receiver on the depth chart. Given his ceiling and returner status, he makes for a nice pickup toward the middle rounds of your draft.
A Small Scoring Bump
Most returners don't handle their team's full slate of both kickoffs and punts. This allows some great players across the league to see the field a few extra times per game. Bills' running back C.J. Spiller finished strong last year after Fred Jackson was injured and he is penciled in as the punt returner. Oakland wideout Denarius Moore was a popular sleeper candidate last summer and he managed to put together a solid campaign. He appears to be the early favorite at punt returner for the Raiders. If your league includes IDP, consider Baltimore cornerback Lardarius Webb. He came out of nowhere to have a strong IDP season and will likely return punts for the Ravens.
2012 NFL Punt & Kick Return Depth Charts
Bold: "Draftable" fantasy player
Updated: October 1, 2012