There are many excellent return specialists today in Hester, McGee, Cribbs, Carr, Rossum, Davis, Hall, and many more. Some specialize in returning mainly punts or kickoffs. Some do both.
First we start with the best kickoff AND punt returner in NFL history:
Brian was a college Quarterback who was drafted in the 5th round of the 1990 draft by the Washington Redskins. He was converted to Running Back, but did his major work as a return specialist. Brian split return duties with 2 other players in his rookie season, but did rush for a TD on 15 attempts. Taking over the full time return duties the next season, Brian led the NFL with 600 punt return yards and 2 touchdowns. He also averaged 13.3 yards per return, helping the Redskins win Super Bowl XXVI. He was selected to his first All Pro team that year. Mitchell then scored on a career long 84 yard return the next season. Brian led the NFL in all purpose yards 4 times from 1994 to 1998. In 1994, he led the NFL with a career best 14.1 yards per punt return average. He also led the NFL with 2 punt return touchdowns. Brian also piled up a career high 1,478 kickoff return yards, while averaging 25.5 yards per return. He would then make the All Pro team. 1995 would be Brian's last All Pro season, when he averaged a career best 25.6 yards per kickoff return, and scoring off of a punt return. Brian scored his first kickoff return touchdown in 1997, and he also scored on a punt return. Mitchell scored on a career long 101 yard kickoff return in 1998. Brian joined the Philadelphia Eagles in 2000. He played 3 seasons with them, and scored a touchdown on both a punt return and kickoff return in 2 of those years. 2003 would be his last NFL season, which he played with the New York Giants. Brian ran for 1,967 yards and 12 TD's at an impressive 5.1 yards per carry average for his career. He also caught 255 passes for 4 TD's. Brian got to throw 18 passes in his career, and completed 7 of them. He threw a TD on the last pass of his career. He also recovered 20 fumbles on special teams in his 13 year career. His 23,330 total yards ranks second All Time. He averaged 23.1 yards per kick return on 607 returns, scoring 4 times. He also averaged 10.8 yards per punt return on 463 attempts. Brian Mitchell holds MANY NFL records. His 19,013 total return yards is a record, as is his 14,014 kickoff return yards, and his 4,999 punt return yards. His 1,070 kick returns are the most ever, and his 9 punt return touchdowns is the second most ever in NFL history. Brian's 2231 fair catches are the most ever, and his 33 in one season is also an NFL record. He is one of just 4 players in NFL history to gain over 2,000 yards four times in his career. Brian Mitchell BETTER NOT wait long for his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame!
Here is a list of other greats you hopefully haven't forgotten :
Ollie was drafted in the first round by the Chicago Cardinals in the 1952 draft. Many NFL fans who know their history, know that Ollie played Halfback, Fullback, Flanker, and Kick Returner throughout his 13 year Hall of Fame career. Coming off of winning 2 medals in the 1952 Olympics, Ollie was used primarily as a kickoff return specialist in his rookie season. He did get 96 carries and 11 receptions that season, and scored 6 touchdowns. He also averaged 31.2 yards per kickoff return, and scored twice. His 2 TD's, and 100 yard return, led the NFL. Matson was Co-NFL Rookie of the Year, and was named to his first All Pro team. He led the NFL in all purpose yards the next year, while scoring on both a punt and kickoff return. Matson followed that up with a league leading 245 punt return yards in 1955, while averaging a career best 18.8 yards per return that also led the league. Matson led the NFL in all purpose yards in 1957, and scored on a career best 105 return. Ollie led the NFL with a 35.5 yard per kickoff return average in 1958, and scored twice. Ollie then was traded to the Los Angeles Rams for NINE players in 1959. He played for the Detroit Lions in 1963, then for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1964. He then retired after the 1966 season with 5,173 rushing yards and 40 TD's, 222 receptions for 23 TD's, and 3 TD's off punt returns. Matson averaged 26.2 yards per kickoff return for his career. Ollie Matson's 6 kickoff return touchdowns are an NFL record.
Mel was a 2nd round draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in the 1984 Supplemental Drat. Though some confused his name with Saint Louis Cardinals legend Mel Gray, a Wide Receiver in the 1970's, this Mel was spectacular in his own right. Mel was used mainly as a kick returner in his career, though he did score 1 touchdown on 19 career rushing attempts. Mel's rookie season saw him score a touchdown on a league long 101 yard kickoff return. He averaged 27.9 yards on 31 returns. Gray then assumed punt return duties the next year, and led the NFL with a 14.7 yard per punt return average. He also had a career best 80 yard return. Mel scored a touchdown on a punt return the following season. Gray joined the Detroit Lions in 1990, and would make his first All Pro team that year. He repeated that honor in 1991, when he led the NFL with a career best 15.4 yards per punt return. He also scored off of a 78 yard return. Gray also led the NFL with 929 kickoff returns yards and a 25.8 average. In 1992, Gray led the NFL with 42 kickoff returns. He scored a touchdown off of a punt and kickoff return, while making the All Pro team. On 1993, Mel scored on a 95 yard kickoff return. Mel led the NFL with 3 kickoff return touchdowns, and a career best 28.4 average. He also led the league with a career high 102 yard kickoff return. Mel then played for Houston Oilers and Philadelphia Eagles over the next 3 seasons before retiring in 1997. When he retired, he had the most kickoffs and kickoff return yards in NFL history. He now ranks 3rd All Time in those categories. Mel Gray is on the NFL 1990's All Decade Team. He averaged 10.9 yards on 252 punt returns, with 3 touchdowns. Gray also averaged 24.3 yards on 421 returns. His 6 kickoff returns for touchdowns are the most in NFL history.
Abe was drafted by the San Francisco 49ers in the second round of the 1957 draft. Though Abe intercepted 19 balls, and recovered 15 fumbles, in his 9 year career for the 49ers, he made his mark as a return specialist. Woodson didn't play much in his rookie season, but he was stellar from the next year on. He would be an All Pro from 1959 to 1963. In 1959, he led the NFL in kickoff return average with 29.5. He also had a NFL long return of 105 yards, which resulted in his first career touchdown. Abe averaged 29.3 yards per kick return the following year, and led the NFL in punt return average with a career best 13.4. He also had the most punt return yards that year, with 174 yards. His 48 yard return via a punt also led the league. Woodson averaged 10.8 yards per punt return in 1961. He returned one punt 80 yards for a score. Abe also averaged 29 yards per kickoff return, and scored on a 98 yard return. Woodson then led the NFL with 37 kickoff returns, a career best 1,157 yards returned, and a 31.3 average in 1962. He also had an NFL long 85 yard punt return, which culminated in his last punt return touchdown of his career. Woodson also scored the only defensive touchdown of his career that year, when he took a fumble in for a score. Abe scored an NFL leading 3 kickoff return touchdowns the next season, and led the NFL with a career best 32.2 average. Woodson continued to be one of the best kick returners in the league the next 2 seasons, before giving up the duties for his final season in 1966. Abe Woodson retired with 1 defensive TD, 2 TD's off punt returns, and 5 off of kickoff returns. His career average of 28.69 yards per kickoff return ranks 3rd all time. Abe Woodson led the NFL in kickoff return average 3 times, which is an NFL record.
Most people, who follow football, know Gale is in Canton. He only returned 91 kickoffs and 27 punts in his career, no one ever maximized their returns better in NFL history than Gale. He scored an NFL record 6 touchdowns on kickoff returns, and 2 more on punt returns. Sayers averaged 14.5 on punt returns, and had an NFL long of 85 yards in his 1965 All Pro rookie season. He also 31.4 yards per kick return, and was the runaway winner of the Rookie of the Year Award. Gale was far from done, because he took two kickoffs for touchdowns the next year, and led the NFL with a 31.2 kickoff return average. In 1967, he only returned 3 punts, but took one for the last punt return touchdown of his illustrious career. He only had 16 kickoff returns, but took 3 of them for scores. He also had a career long return of 103 yards. Sayers led the NFL in all purpose yards in his first 3 seasons, and was an All Pro in all 5 seasons he played special teams. Gale Sayers 30.56 yards per kickoff return for a career is an NFL record.
Lynn was the Steelers first draft pick of the 1950 draft. Lynn did catch 162 passes for 2012 yards and 7 touchdowns, to go with 1,934 yards rushing and 16 touchdowns, in his seven year NFL career with Pittsburgh. He also completed 19 passes on 59 attempts for 2 touchdowns, and had 66 punt returns. He made his major mark, however, as a kickoff return specialist. He averaged 29.3 yards per kick return as a rookie. Lynn then led the NFL the next year with a 32.5 yard average. In 1952, Chandnois led the NFL again with a career best 35.3 average. He also scored 2 touchdowns, including a career best 93 yard return. He was named to his first All Pro team, and was the 1952 NFL Player Of The Year. Lynn was named to his final All Pro team the next year, when he averaged 29 yards per return. He almost matched his career best of 93 yards, when he scored the last kickoff return of his career. Lynn retired after the 1956 season. Lynn Chandnois ranks second in NFL history with a career average of 29.57 yards per kick return
Bobby was a 19th round draft pick of the Houston Oilers in the 1962 AFL draft. Bobby played 6 seasons, and is one of the best kick return specialists in AFL history. He led the AFL in kickoff return average as a rookie with 30.3. He led the AFL in the next year with a career high 45 kickoff returns for a career best 1,317 yards. His 29.3 kickoff return average also led the AFL. In 1964, Bobby scored the only touchdown of his career, when he took a punt for a league leading 82 yards. He also had a career best 18.3 average on punt returns. In 1966, Jancik led the AFL with 34 kickoff returns for 875 yards. Bobby then retired after the 1967 season. Jancik did intercept 15 passes in his career, as well as averaging 9.7 yards on 67 punt returns. His career average on kickoff returns is an exceptional 26.5 on 158 attempts.
Bruce was a local kid who went undrafted in 1977. He signed with the New York Jets. By the time Bruce retired in 1984, he was the Jets All Time Leader in kickoff return yardage. He burst onto the NFL scene immediately. Harper led the NFL in kickoff return yardage in each of his first 3 years, which is an NFL record. He also led the NFL in kickoff returns in each of his 3 seasons. He led the NFL in all purpose yardage in two of his first four seasons. Harper had one touchdown on special teams in his career, which came from a 82 yard punt return in 1978. He was also noted for his pass receiving ability, and was one of the top 3rd down running back in the AFC for a few years. When he retired after the 1982 season, he had 220 receptions, and 1,829 yards rushing. He scored 20 touchdowns on offense in his career, and averaged 22.3 on 243 kickoff returns.
Timmy was a 27th round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 1959 draft. He only was on the roster for one game in his rookie year, and did not accumulate any stats. He then joined the Philadelphia Eagles the next year. He played very sparingly, but did have a 79 yard kick return on 11 attempts. 1961 would be the year Brown got his chance. He led the NFL with 29 kickoff returns and 811 yards. He scored on a 105 yard return, which still stands as an Eagle franchise record. He also scored the only punt return touchdown of his career on just 8 returns. Brown led the NFL in all purpose yards in 1962 and 1963. In 1962, Brown caught 50 balls and averages an impressive 16.3 yards per catch. He led the NFL in kickoff returns and kickoff return yards in 1963, with 33 attempts for a career high 945 yards. He was also named an All Pro in 1962, '63, and '65. He led the NFL with a yards per rushing average of 5.4 yards per carry, as he ran for a career high 861 yards. Brown scored on 2 kickoff returns in 1966, which is a NFL record he shares with five others. Timmy got injured in the 7th game in 1967, and missed the rest of the year. He joined the Baltimore Colts the next year, and helped the Colts win the NFL Championship before they went on to lose in Super Bowl III. He retied after that season , and has enjoyed a fine acting career. Timmy was in both the movie and TV version of M*A*S*H. Timmy Brown rushed for 3,862 yards and 31 TD's, while catching 235 passes for 3,399 yards and 26 TD's. His 14.5 yards per catch is very impressive for a running back. He also averaged 26 yards on 184 kickoff returns. His 5 kickoff return touchdowns is tied for the second most in NFL history.
Travis was a 4th round draft pick by the Green Bay Packers in the 1967 draft. Travis played just 5 seasons in the NFL, but his impact has him in the record books. Travis returned 4 kickoffs for a touchdown as a rookie, which is the most by a rookie in NFL history. It is also tied with Cecil Turner as the most ever in one season. He averaged an amazing 41,1 yards per kickoff return, which led the NFL., and is the highest average ever by anyone. He also gained 188 yards at a 5.4 average and scored once. Travis also averaged 16 yards on 8 catches, scoring once, while helping the Packers win Super Bowl II. In 1969, Williams scored on a 96 yard kickoff return, while leading the NFL with 1,517 all purpose yards. He also returned the first 8 punt returns of his career, and scored on a 83 yard return while averaging a career best 23.6 yards per return. He also led the Packers with 536 rushing yards, and ran for 4 TD's. Travis also led the Packers with 27 receptions, while scoring 3 times. Williams got hurt in the 7th game of the 1970 season, and missed the rest of the year. He joined the Los Angeles Rams the next year, and led the NFL with a 29.7 kickoff return average on 25 attempts. He also scored on a 105 yard return, which is tied for 3rd longest All Time. Travis then retired after that season. His 6 kickoff returns are the most in NFL history, tied with 4 others. He also has the longest kickoff return in Rams history. He averaged 27.5 yards on 102 kickoff returns.
Cecil was drafted in the 5th round of the 1968 draft by the Chicago Bears. He spent his rookie year as a reserve flanker, catching a career high 14 passes. He scored the only two receiving touchdowns of his career, taking one for a career long 80 yards. Cecil averaged 32.6 yards per kick return the next year, with a long of 74 yards. Now, primarily used as a kick returner, Cecil exploded in 1970. He made his only All Pro team, when he set an NFL single season record by taking 4 kickoffs for touchdowns.He averaged a career high 32.7 yards on 23 returns.They would be the last touchdowns of his career. He never came close to matching anything like that in his career, and was out of the NFL after the 1973 season. Still, no one can take away what Cecil Turner accomplished in his magical 1970 year.
Deserve Mention : Roy Green, Raymond Clayborn, Darrick Vaughn, Tamarick Vanover, Andre Coleman, Jon Vaughn, Ron Brown, Michael Bates, Bobby Mitchell, Ron Smith, Al Carmichael, Tyronne Hughes, Marshall Goldberg, Woodley Lewis, Tony Horne
TOMORROW : THE PUNT RETURNERS