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Good list of return men

  • TX9R
  • Veteran
  • Posts: 8,191
Every now and then ESPN has a good article. Here's a nice comprehensive look at return men
http://espn.go.com/blog/afcsouth/post/_/id/10476/a-3-d-look-at-scouting-return-men




So what does it take to unearth a quality return man?

I set out this week to address this from several angles, and I’m going to let some smart people with informative takes carry the day.

So without further ado…

Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh has a big background in special teams.

What’s he want to see out of a prospective returner?

"Punt and kickoff return are completely different. In punt return, the bottom line is he’s got to be a natural catcher. So catching a punt is a unique thing. If they can’t catch, you can forget about it. Kick return is a little easier to catch, but some of these guys struggle to catch kicks. To me, a kick returner has to be a north-south runner. He’s got to have a burst of acceleration and/or power, and he’s got to have vision. It’s usually more of a running back-type guy who can read the hole and cut off blocks. Punt return is a guy that can catch the ball naturally, has great body control and he can do two things at once. He’s got to be able to catch the ball and feel the pressure around him. Make the guy miss, whether it’s make or miss with the body control to slip through there, or be able to change speed and change angles."

Does he need to see a college player do that or can he project it?

"It’s a good question. You’d rather see it because then you know. But if you don’t see it, you can project it. But you’ve got to go work the guy out and see if he can catch. So you can take a guy that maybe wasn’t a college punt returner, and maybe turn him into a pro punt returner. Maybe you find out that he has been catching punts every day but they didn’t put him back there because he was their primary receiver or whatever. It’s pretty rare to see a great pro punt returner who wasn’t a pretty good college punt returner."


Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. says he wants to see courage and toughness in a return man:


"It’s funny. When looking/reading prospect reports on draft prospects this time of year, many scouts rightfully put something along the lines of, 'Also can contribute as a return man' as part of a young man's scouting report. That is all well and good, but like kickers and punters, is he one of the best 32 (or so) at this skill in the world? It is not for the faint of heart and while speed, elusiveness and vision are all paramount for either punt or kickoff returns, I think guts/fearlessness/toughness is maybe the most important. If you are going to keep a pure returner, he had better be outstanding-by NFL standards. Otherwise, he has to do something else. Be the fourth cornerback or wide receiver or be a core special teams player on coverage teams."


Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats & Information took a look at some of the best returners in league history and some of the most productive guys in recent history to see if there were any commonalities:


"The one 'similarity' of the best returner historically (Brian Mitchell) and the best return man in 2009 (Joshua Cribbs) is that they were both college QBs.

"The other common denominator is that of the players below, only three were defensive backs in college: Darrien Gordon, Devin Hester, Deion Sanders.

"Another common denominator (with the exception of the 6-foot-1 Cribbs) is that they are all under six feet tall."

Top Punt Returners, Historically/Recently
Player Height Draft info
Brian Mitchell 5-11 Redskins, 1990, 5th rd.: Louisiana-Lafayette (played QB in college)
David Meggett 5-7 NY Giants, 1989, 5th rd.: Morgan State/Towson State
Darrien Gordon 5-11 Chargers, 1993, 1st rd.: Stanford -- drafted to be a DB first
Eric Metcalf 5-10 Browns, 1989, 1st rd.: Texas -- RB in college, more effective WR in the NFL
Rick Upchurch 5-10 Broncos, 1975, 4th rd.: Minnesota, WR
Desmond Howard 5-10 Redskins, 1992, 1st rd.: Michigan, WR/returner
Devin Hester 5-10 Bears, 2006, 2nd rd.: Miami, DB
DeSean Jackson 5-10 Eagles, 2008, 2nd rd.: CAL, WR
Deion Sanders 6-1 Falcons, 1989, 1st rd.: FSU, CB
Source: ESPN's Stats & Information's Keith Hawkins
Top Kickoff Returners, Historically/Recently
Player Height Draft info
Dante Hall 5-8 Chiefs, 2000, 5th rd.: Texas A&M, WR
Mel Gray 5-9 Cardinals, 1971, 6th rd.: Missouri, WR
Allen Rossum 5-8 Eagles, 1998, 3rd rd.: Notre Dame, RB
Joshua Cribbs 6-1 Browns, 2005, Undrafted: Kent State, QB
Darren Sproles 5-6 Chargers, 2005, 4th rd.: Kansas State, RB
Source: ESPN's Stats & Information's Keith Hawkins

Finally, Kevin Weidl of Scouts Inc. was kind enough to run through the best return prospects in the draft:

Return Specialists

These guys will either be drafted or signed as free agents strictly for their return skills. Due to lack of size, they will need a creative offensive coordinator to contribute offensively at the next level.

Brandon Banks, Kansas State (5-7, 159) -- Banks is the top pure returner in this years’ class. He possesses a nice combination of vision, quickness, speed and elusiveness to consistently set offenses up with favorable field position.

Brandon James, Florida (5-6, 176) -- James possesses great vision to locate and the short-area burst to quickly get through first line of defense. He also displays a quick stop and start and is very reliable tracking and fielding punts. Questionable overall long speed to outrun defenders when they have favorable angle in pursuit.

Trindon Holliday, LSU (5-5, 172) -- World-class track speed, and has the ability to exploit even the slimmest of creases. He is shifty but lacks elite elusiveness to make defenders miss in confined areas.

Other prospects that bring added value as returners (sorted by position);

Running backs

C.J. Spiller, Clemson -- The most dynamic and versatile offensive weapon in this year’s class. Explosive short-area burst and elite top-end and long speed give him ability to rip off a big gain at any point in both phases of the return game.

Dexter McCluster, Ole Miss -- McCluster is pint sized (5-8) but shows great versatility and quickness to contribute as a change-of-pace back and wide receiver at the next level. Elite open-field capabilities make him dangerous as a punt returner.

Other RBs with returning experience: Joe McKnight, USC; Ben Tate, Auburn; Andre Dixon, UConn

Cornerbacks

Javier Arenas, Alabama -- Instinctive and tough football player who should step in and contribute immediately as a sub-package nickel back. Despite lack of elite top-end speed, Arenas is one of the more effective returners in this year’s class. I love his vision, balance and quick stop and start as a returner.

Kyle Wilson, Boise State -- Physical press corner who shows great anticipation and ball skills out on an island. Wilson brings added value as a reliable punt returner with good speed and open-field capabilities.

Devin McCourty, Rutgers -- Not many holes in McCourty as a cornerback. Easy change of direction, strong overall ball skills, plays bigger than size indicates and not afraid to get jersey dirty in run support. McCourty is one of the most versatile special teams prospect in this year's class, an effective kick returner and outstanding gunner with punt coverage.

Akwasi Owusu-Ansah, IUP -- Possesses a nice combination of size, speed and ball skills teams covet as either a press corner or free safety at the next level. Owusu-Ansahis a strong open-field runner who has experience as both a kickoff and punt returner.

Other cornerbacks with returning experience: Perrish Cox, Oklahoma State; Syd’Quan Thompson, Cal; Walter Thurmond, Oregon; Dennis Rogan, Tennessee

Wide receivers

Golden Tate, Notre Dame -- Aggressive, savvy and sure-handed and should develop into at least a strong No. 3 WR at the next level. Reliable punt returner with good vision, balance and deceiving top-end speed.

Damian Williams, USC -- Smooth athlete and one of the most polished route runners in this year’s receiver class. Despite lack of top-end speed, Williams will consistently field punts cleanly and has enough elusiveness to pick up positive yardage.

Mardy Gilyard, Cincinnati -- Instinctive and passionate playmaker on the field who should develop into a solid No. 3 WR. By no means a burner, but a difference-maker as a returner in both phases as he shows elite body control and never slows down out of cuts.

Jacoby Ford, Clemson -- World class track speed and should be a nice vertical threat at the next level. Elite top-end speed gives him ability to hit the home run at any point as both a kick and punt returner.

Antonio Brown, Central Michigan -- Quicker than fast, and should contribute working out of the slot at the next level. Brown brings added value as both a kick and punt returner with his open field capabilities and overall elusiveness.

Other receivers with returning experience: Jordan Shipley, Texas; Emmanuel Sanders, SMU; Andre Roberts, Citadel; David Reed, Utah


And a bonus link to a Pro Football Weekly story on the best special teamers in the draft, including three return specialists

There's more in the article, but it shows you don't have to spend a top pick on a guy to return kicks, there's great value throughout the draft.

[ Edited by TX9R on Mar 26, 2010 at 07:01:53 ]
Nice post........choices, choices, choices! I would think the Niners go for a WR or CB with return skills because they have better depth at those positions.
Thanks for the post! It's nice to have some quality content here in the DWR this time of the year.
Great post... TONS of information... very well thought out!!!!!!
  • mayo49
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  • Posts: 21,133
Thanks, TX.
Good list, LeRoy Vann should be on it, but other than that it's lovely.
Great post! Looking at the rounds of the best return men for the last decade, it looks like 5th and 6th are good rounds. That really helps me with CJ Spiller in the first. Cause it's hard to get contributors in the 5th and 6th rounds at most other positions. So I can dedicate a latter round choice to a return man, and focus my first round picks on players who can contribute every down.

(Note: CJ Spiller might be an every down back, but so is Frank Gore.)
and great job!

Given this information and the high caliber return specialists all through out the draft class, I have to say that it would be prudent NOT to draft Spiller so that those two picks are used for every down players who can immediately impact the team, maybe even start.

But, I love Spiller and its going to piss me off if he does go to Seattle!

Do you think Mays and Willis could run him down?

I keed, I keed...
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.
  • TX9R
  • Veteran
  • Posts: 8,191
Originally posted by ttime1:
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.

I don't think the gap is that wide if we're just talking return ability to warrant the difference in value between a 1st and 5th round pick. RB is not a position of need. A Cb who can return also is much bigger need and in this draft, a far better value. I just don't think you spend a top pick on a guy who wil only see 10-12 snaps a game when you already have a perennial probowler playing his position.
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by ttime1:
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.

I don't think the gap is that wide if we're just talking return ability to warrant the difference in value between a 1st and 5th round pick. RB is not a position of need. A Cb who can return also is much bigger need and in this draft, a far better value. I just don't think you spend a top pick on a guy who wil only see 10-12 snaps a game when you already have a perennial probowler playing his position.

But the probowler is very close to that magical age of 30. I would rather have young kids on the roster learning behind Gore then waiting till he leaves and drafting a kid whose had no experience.

But a CB with ST skills is a must and I hope we draft one as well. I would like to come out of this draft with 2-3 kids who can move the rock on ST.
  • TX9R
  • Veteran
  • Posts: 8,191
Originally posted by jreff22:
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by ttime1:
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.

I don't think the gap is that wide if we're just talking return ability to warrant the difference in value between a 1st and 5th round pick. RB is not a position of need. A Cb who can return also is much bigger need and in this draft, a far better value. I just don't think you spend a top pick on a guy who wil only see 10-12 snaps a game when you already have a perennial probowler playing his position.

But the probowler is very close to that magical age of 30. I would rather have young kids on the roster learning behind Gore then waiting till he leaves and drafting a kid whose had no experience.

But a CB with ST skills is a must and I hope we draft one as well. I would like to come out of this draft with 2-3 kids who can move the rock on ST.

Gore turns 27 in May, not that close to 30, basically his prime. LT was 27 in his record year. RB is the one position you don't need to sit a year or two, you come in and produce which is why Spiller would be a waste. Wait 2 years, then draft a successor and get max value.
We have too many holes for a luxury pick who isn't an every down player, and likely not even a 3rd down bask because Frank excells there. I just don't see why you want your best player off the field other than to spell him for a rest.
The best route is a CB who can return, a specialist who only has to return, and maybe a speed back/ WR who can return and fill in here and there. Those players can be had in alter rounds and we save our top picks for top flight full time players at positions of need.
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by jreff22:
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by ttime1:
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.

I don't think the gap is that wide if we're just talking return ability to warrant the difference in value between a 1st and 5th round pick. RB is not a position of need. A Cb who can return also is much bigger need and in this draft, a far better value. I just don't think you spend a top pick on a guy who wil only see 10-12 snaps a game when you already have a perennial probowler playing his position.

But the probowler is very close to that magical age of 30. I would rather have young kids on the roster learning behind Gore then waiting till he leaves and drafting a kid whose had no experience.

But a CB with ST skills is a must and I hope we draft one as well. I would like to come out of this draft with 2-3 kids who can move the rock on ST.

Gore turns 27 in May, not that close to 30, basically his prime. LT was 27 in his record year. RB is the one position you don't need to sit a year or two, you come in and produce which is why Spiller would be a waste. Wait 2 years, then draft a successor and get max value.
We have too many holes for a luxury pick who isn't an every down player, and likely not even a 3rd down bask because Frank excells there. I just don't see why you want your best player off the field other than to spell him for a rest.
The best route is a CB who can return, a specialist who only has to return, and maybe a speed back/ WR who can return and fill in here and there. Those players can be had in alter rounds and we save our top picks for top flight full time players at positions of need.

Spiller ability to do everything is why I want him. We can line him up in the slot if need be, just to create more mismatches. Spiller is the best RB this year, whose to say in 2-3 years when Gore starts to slide we are in a position to get a great RB? I love Gore but the 2 games he was out showed that MROB cant carry the load and Coffee....well Coffee is still a major ?. Having a real speed threat on O will open up more options to us.

Every analysts describe Spiller as the super-explosive home-run threat with excellent speed and is a threat to take it the distance at any time from anywhere on the field.

How can you not want a kid that has those attributes?
  • TX9R
  • Veteran
  • Posts: 8,191
Originally posted by jreff22:
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by jreff22:
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by ttime1:
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.

I don't think the gap is that wide if we're just talking return ability to warrant the difference in value between a 1st and 5th round pick. RB is not a position of need. A Cb who can return also is much bigger need and in this draft, a far better value. I just don't think you spend a top pick on a guy who wil only see 10-12 snaps a game when you already have a perennial probowler playing his position.

But the probowler is very close to that magical age of 30. I would rather have young kids on the roster learning behind Gore then waiting till he leaves and drafting a kid whose had no experience.

But a CB with ST skills is a must and I hope we draft one as well. I would like to come out of this draft with 2-3 kids who can move the rock on ST.

Gore turns 27 in May, not that close to 30, basically his prime. LT was 27 in his record year. RB is the one position you don't need to sit a year or two, you come in and produce which is why Spiller would be a waste. Wait 2 years, then draft a successor and get max value.
We have too many holes for a luxury pick who isn't an every down player, and likely not even a 3rd down bask because Frank excells there. I just don't see why you want your best player off the field other than to spell him for a rest.
The best route is a CB who can return, a specialist who only has to return, and maybe a speed back/ WR who can return and fill in here and there. Those players can be had in alter rounds and we save our top picks for top flight full time players at positions of need.

Spiller ability to do everything is why I want him. We can line him up in the slot if need be, just to create more mismatches. Spiller is the best RB this year, whose to say in 2-3 years when Gore starts to slide we are in a position to get a great RB? I love Gore but the 2 games he was out showed that MROB cant carry the load and Coffee....well Coffee is still a major ?. Having a real speed threat on O will open up more options to us.

Every analysts describe Spiller as the super-explosive home-run threat with excellent speed and is a threat to take it the distance at any time from anywhere on the field.

How can you not want a kid that has those attributes?

Sure I would want him, I just don't think it's good value with the other holes we have to fill. Felix Jones was the same kind of player and he's shown flashes, but also been hurt a lot. But Dallas had the luxury because they didn't have glaring holes elsewhere. Harvin the exact same deal, missed a lot of time, but went to a team with no holes. We are not that type of team. As far as 2 years from now there are good backs every year in most rounds of the draft, you don't have to spend a first to get a good one.l
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by jreff22:
Originally posted by TX9R:
Originally posted by ttime1:
Great post and information. Although there are some great prospects, I'm still on the Spiller bandwagon. None of them have come close to his production despite Spiller not being am everydown back in college. Like others have said, give me the best at a postion of need as opposed to a lower ranking player of another postion.

I don't think the gap is that wide if we're just talking return ability to warrant the difference in value between a 1st and 5th round pick. RB is not a position of need. A Cb who can return also is much bigger need and in this draft, a far better value. I just don't think you spend a top pick on a guy who wil only see 10-12 snaps a game when you already have a perennial probowler playing his position.

But the probowler is very close to that magical age of 30. I would rather have young kids on the roster learning behind Gore then waiting till he leaves and drafting a kid whose had no experience.

But a CB with ST skills is a must and I hope we draft one as well. I would like to come out of this draft with 2-3 kids who can move the rock on ST.

Gore turns 27 in May, not that close to 30, basically his prime. LT was 27 in his record year. RB is the one position you don't need to sit a year or two, you come in and produce which is why Spiller would be a waste. Wait 2 years, then draft a successor and get max value.
We have too many holes for a luxury pick who isn't an every down player, and likely not even a 3rd down bask because Frank excells there. I just don't see why you want your best player off the field other than to spell him for a rest.
The best route is a CB who can return, a specialist who only has to return, and maybe a speed back/ WR who can return and fill in here and there. Those players can be had in alter rounds and we save our top picks for top flight full time players at positions of need.

10 to 12 snaps plus KR/PR duties would automatically put the ball in his hands second only to Gore and he can in fact be on the filed with Gore at times. This is not a one back league anymore and with Spiller's ability to EFFECTIVELY handle multiple duites his value is much greater than simply a RB or a CB who also can handle KR/PR. BIg difference.