Return Yardage Leagues & Players to Target
Fantasy football traditionalists beware; does your league award points for kick and punt returns for players? Return yardage is a total wildcard, but there are some players to keep your eye on this year who should get a bump in return yardage leagues because they return kicks and punts. Return men obviously should get more consideration if your league generously rewards 1pt/10yards on returns, and less of a bump if it is a more standard 1pt/50yards on returns.
The unfortunate truth here is the majority of teams are more than willing to give any player a shot in the return game. One fumble, a muffed punt, or a poorly timed fair catch are all ways to lose the role of returner in the NFL. In fact, this list will likely be out of date next week.
Here at 4for4, we do not project return yardage. The turnover at the position and the inherent unpredictability of the yardage makes it a fruitless endeavor. Incorporating return yardage projections would likely cause noise, and could ultimately hurt your draft.
But if your league rewards heavily for return yardage, we suggest taking this list of the top return guys and make a note of it in your rankings. But be mindful that returner scoring is highly inconsistent and not something you want to rely too heavily upon.
Josh Cribbs (Cleveland Browns, Bye: 8)
Cribbs is as good as it gets in the return game as he is an established returner with a moderate role on offense. One small advantage is that Cleveland is a bad team, which means they will allow more scoring thus giving Cribbs more kick return opportunities. In 2009, he finished with 1,542 kick return yards, 3 KR TDs, 452 punt return yards and 1 TD.
Cribbs is the only return yardage player we feel you really should target early in your draft. In leagues that reward 1pt/10return yards, Cribbs was likely the top scoring WR in your league last year -- ahead of guys like Andre Johnson. And Cribbs isn't likely to lose his return duties any time soon.
Deciding where to draft Cribbs is highly dependent on scoring rules and how aware other mangers in your league are of his value given said scoring rules. If they are unaware, he could be available in the late rounds. But in a 1pt/10return yard league you would be justified reaching for him in rounds 4-6 or perhaps even earlier if that's really how you want to build your team. The key is knowing your league rules, and knowing if other managers are paying attention to the scoring rules.
Darren Sproles (San Diego Chargers, Bye: 10)
As one of the few players who will see the field consistently both on offense and on both kick and punt returns, Sproles provides the most value. He’s not the most dynamic return man, but considering he will likely spell Ryan Mathews at running back and pile up return yards, he does enough to merit a high ranking here. In 2009, he had a total of 1,483 return yards and a touchdown.
Eddie Royal (Denver Broncos, Bye: 9)
After what all considered a sophomore slump year, Royal is a sleeper at wideout and don’t forget he returns kicks and punts as well. Royal has plenty of experience in this department. He was one of only two players to return both a kick and punt for a touchdown last season.
Percy Harvin (Minnesota Vikings, Bye: 4)
In limited opportunities, Harvin shows Minnesota why they drafted him. On 42 kick returns, he had 1,156 yards and two touchdowns. Harvin is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the NFL. The Vikings may need to lean on him a bit more with Sidney Rice possibly missing most of the first half of the season but it’s clear no one is better at returning kicks on the Vikings than Harvin.
Ted Ginn Jr. (San Francisco 49ers, Bye: 9)
The 49ers had one of the worst return games in 2009 and the signing of Ginn appeared to be the main reason he was brought over. In all likelihood, Ginn will always be used as a slot receiver so he will have plenty of opportunities to make plays both on offense and special teams in San Francisco.
Jacoby Jones (Houston Texans, Bye: 7)
This speedy wideout is currently fighting for a starting spot alongside star receiver Andre Johnson. If he wins the role, the returner spots will likely go to Andre Davis, one of the veteran return men in the NFL. But Jones has a ton of speed and enough height to bounce off a few would-be tacklers. He has a penchant for big returns, but is a little inconsistent. Davis may end up with both returner jobs so monitor this situation.
Leon Washington (Seattle Seahawks, Bye: 5)
Seattle’s return man last year was Justin Forsett but in all likelihood, he’ll be the team’s starting running back. With that being the case, the job falls down to Washington who in 2009 saw limited time as a returner. The reports coming out of Seattle all suggest that Carroll wants to put the ball in Washington’s hands but Forsett is the better back. Washington gets his best shot to make plays as a returner.
Danny Amendola (St. Louis Rams, Bye: 9)
With 1,618 return yards, Amendola led the NFL in kick return yards last season. He also led the league in returns of 20+ yards with 51. Most teams didn’t even have 51 kick returns which is what gives Amendola his advantage: opportunities. Add 31 punt returns for 360 yards and Amendola does it all for the Rams on special teams.
Clifton Smith (Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Bye: 4)
After 11,408 days, 0 hours, 29 minutes and 15 seconds of existence, the Bucs scored their first ever kickoff return touchdown in franchise history. Since that TD by Morgan Spurlock, Smith scored No. 2 for the franchise in 2008 and in that time, he’s become of the top return men in the game. Leading the league in kickoff return average (29.1 ypr), Smith also returns punts.
Eric Weems (Atlanta Falcons, Bye: 8)
Weems is currently fighting for a roster spot, but for now, he has one. Last season, Weems finished 8th in the NFL in kick returns and 12th in punt returns. If Weems loses his place on the Falcons’ roster, Atlanta’s WR3 Harry Douglas would likely assume return duties.
Stefon Logan (Pittsburgh Steelers, Bye: 5)
Just like Weems, Logan is fighting for a roster spot. If he misses the cut, rookie Antonio Brown will assume his position. Logan finished 3rd in the NFL in kickoff return yards and 10th in punt return yards. Logan has no other role on the team, so he may be expendable. But if makes the roster, he’s a solid returner.
LaRod Stephens-Howling (Arizona Cardinals, Bye: 6)
At 5-7, 185 pounds, Stephens-Howling gets the job done by being a handful to tackle and fast. Last year, he had 1,257 kick returns yards and a touchdown. As the Cardinals third-string back, he won’t contribute much on offense. But Stephens-Howling is one of the few guys who can take it to the house.
Jacoby Ford (Oakland Raiders, Bye: 10)
It takes a certain kind of crazy to have an Oakland Raider on your roster, but Ford is the fastest of all the fast Raiders. He reportedly ran a 4.126 40-yard dash while in prep school and ran the fastest 40 at 2010 NFL Combine with a time of 4.28. He’s still competing for the job, but we’re talking about upside here.
Damian Williams (Tennessee Titans, Bye: 9)
Williams has been returning kicks and punts in the preseason and in the process has looked great. He is one of the few locks at both returner spots which gives him a bump over the competition simply because his role is defined.
Patrick Cobbs (Miami Dolphins, Bye: 5)
Due the departure of Ted Ginn Jr., Cobbs becomes the de facto kick returner. In 16 returns last year, he had 20+ yards per return on 11 occasions. Cobbs is a short, well-built guy who is more quick than fast, but his change of direction ability gives him this job. He’s not going to make many highlights, but he’s a consistent veteran who you can likely count on to start and finish the year as the Dolphins’ kick returner.