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2012 Kickoff and Punt Return Specialist Primer
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Tuesday, August 14, 2012
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Austin from Sacramento asks:
What WRs will also be returning punts this season? Thank you for your help.
Austin, thanks for the question. There is a wide variety of WR that also put up yards in the return game. I'll cover them in this primer, but I'll also be sure to mention return candidates that aren't pass catchers. In 2011, the top return specialist from a yardage perspective was a Running Back: Seattle's Leon Washington who accrued 1,548 return yards.
Last season's rule change to move the kickoff line back showed its effect considering that the 2010 leader Marc Mariani tallied 1,859 total return yards. That's a drop of over 300 yards last season. Further evidence of decline: in 2010 17 players managed 1,000+ return yards compared to 12 in 2011. Only 3 managed to break the 1,500 return yard mark compared to 6 in 2010.
From a pure fantasy point perspective, those are still some big numbers. Consider how glad you would be to have a mere 1,400 yard Running Back or 1,200 yard Wide Receiver to put it in perspective.
So who should you target?
It's hard to say without knowing the full scoring system of your league, so we'll have to take this from a general perspective and break return specialists into different categories:
Players You Would Target Anyway
Darren Sproles RB NO - The 2011 version was a stud in this format
Antonio Brown WR PIT - Added 1,000+ return yards in 2011 on top of his solid offensive numbers
Percy Harvin WR MIN - Looks like he will continue to take kickoffs where he chipped in a 520 yard bonus last season
Denarius Moore WR OAK - He's penciled in as the kickoff returner which should only pad his performance as the teams expected top receiver
Eric Decker WR DEN - 8 returns last year, turned it into 188 yards and 1 TD
Dez Bryant WR DAL - We all know Bryant is a quality WR, but he is also good for at least a small amount of return yards
C.J. Spiller RB BUF - He's making small strides in the running game, and could also chip in a couple hundred yards in returns
Offensive Sleeper/Replacement Potential
Joshua Cribbs WR CLE - Finished 2011 with 41 catches, 518 yards, and 4 TDs. Not great, but add 1,362 return yards and he looks much better
Devin Hester WR CHI - His receiving career has never taken off, but he remains a perennial 1,000 yard return man and has the best odds for return TDs
Leon Washington RB SEA - Top return specialist in 2011 and could figure more into the running game this year on passing downs and injury replacement
Danny Amendola WR STL - 2011 campaign cut short, but if he stays healthy will pay his way on kickoff returns
Joe McKnight RB NYJ - Benefits from LT's departure, 1,100 return yards in 2011 and will see more work in the running game
Preston Parker WR TB - Added 600+ return yards in 2011 to go with 550 receiving yards
Jacoby Ford WR OAK - Not the strongest candidate, but 350 return yards in 2011
Randall Cobb WR GB - Top 10 return yardage, plus 24 catches last season
Pure Return Specialists, Little Offensive Value
Brandon Banks WR WAS - 3rd best in 2011 (1,502 return yards)
Brandon Tate WR CIN - 2nd best in 2011 (1,541 return yards)
Marc Mariani WR TEN - Top 10 in 2011 (1,238 return yards)
Ted Ginn Jr. WR SF - Top 10 in 2011 (1,266 return yards)
Stefan Logan WR DET - Top 10 in 2011 (1,133 return yards)
LaRod Stephens-Howling RB ARI - Yes, he gets a small amount of offensive work, but has been a Top 10 return man for the last 3 years
Javier Arenas CB KC - 772 return yards in 2011 despite half as many chances as most. Solid room for growth here.
Role Not Fully Understood, Potential Value on Offense and Returns
Isaiah Pead RB STL - The rookie is looking at punt returns now, but we are waiting to see how big a role he gets in the running game
Jerrel Jernigan WR NYG - Not much history, but the 2011 3rd rounder will get a chance to succeed on returns with an outside chance at WR
There are a few more names out there and there's still a lot of time for roster changes in the preseason so keep an eye on the news out of camp, but hopefully this primer will help you decide which players on your draft list get a boost for their return abilities.
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