Return yardage leagues remain uncommon in fantasy. But they add another strategy element, boosting the outlook of some established studs and elevating those who you might otherwise avoid.
Here are the top fantasy relevant guys we expect to handle returns in 2018.
Christian McCaffrey, RB, Panthers
McCaffrey excelled on special teams at Stanford. For his career, he averaged 11.2 yards per punt return and tallied 1 score; 26.0 yards per kick return and another score.
As a rookie, though, he wasn’t nearly as successful. In 23 attempts, he averaged 7.4 yards per punt return and even relinquished those duties down the stretch. In fact, McCaffrey didn’t handle another return after Week 11.
So, there’s some mystery to his special teams role — especially as Carolina hopes to utilize the 22-year-old more on offense. Of course, any return contributions are a bonus for a guy with high-end PPR upside.
Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears
Cohen dazzled as a rookie, posting a 40+ yard run, catch, punt return and kick return. He scored once on a punt from 61 yards out.
He’ll likely enter a larger offensive role in 2018 after seeing 140 touches as a rook. We’ll take the under on his 55 total returns from 2017, but he should still lead Chicago in that area.
Nyheim Hines, RB, Colts
In early June, Colts beat writer Zak Keefer said he “wouldn’t be surprised” if Hines is the Week 1 kick returner.
In late June, ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells said Hines will “get the first shot at being the team's punt- and kick-return specialist.”
That would be in addition to a change-of-pace role for Indy’s wide open backfield. We currently project Hines for 107 offensive touches; 32 of which come from catches. There's not a ton of room for growth there as a 5'8, 198-pounder. So earning regular return duties will be key for his fantasy value.
Darren Sproles, RB, Eagles
Sproles lasted only 3 games last year before suffering an ACL tear and a broken arm.
Across 2 healthy games, he recorded snap shares of 49.3% (Week 1) and 69.4% (Week 2). Sproles added 1 punt return — plus 5 fair catches.
If healthy, he could push for 40 catches and again see action on punts. Sproles, 35, averaged at least 11.7 yards per return each year from 2014-2016. He’s squarely in play as an end-of-the-bench PPR stash.
Antonio Brown, WR, Steelers
Brown reached a career-high of 32 punt returns in 2013. But he’s seen that number decline steadily.
In 2017, Brown returned only 11 punts across 14 games. He averaged a career-low 5.5 yards per return and failed to score for just the 2nd time over the last 5 seasons.
Still, Brown remains an ultra-explosive returner capable of popping off a few big returns. He just won’t see the volume of some of the others on this list.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, Steelers
JuJu not only made headlines as a rookie WR — we saw immediate contributions on special teams, too. His 26.7-yard average on kick returns easily paced all Steelers. That figure was boosted by a 96-yard scamper to the end zone.
There’s not an obvious replacement for Smith-Schuster, whose offensive role will remain prominent. The team signed accomplished college return man Quadree Henderson as a UDFA, but his roster spot is far from guaranteed.
Bottom line: Expect JuJu to see at least a few returns this season, aiding his already-attractive WR2 profile.
Tyreek Hill, WR, Chiefs
Hill went from 14 kick returns as a rookie to 0 last season. He declined as a punt returner, too, posting 39-592-2 in 2016 vs. 25-204-1 in 2017.
Still, it’ll be tough for the Chiefs to pull the ultra-explosive Hill from returns. Our main issue is an already-inflated ADP that has Hill coming off the board at WR11.
Julian Edelman, WR, Patriots
Edelman handled only 15 punt returns in 2016… and that was across 16 games.
Last year, of course, was lost to an August ACL tear. So even with the Pats losing 2017 punt returner Danny Amendola in free agency, we’d expect sporadic special teams usage from Edelman. We’ll see what comes of his appeal of a 4-game suspension.
Jamison Crowder, WR, Washington
Coming off a down 2017 — partly due to hamstring woes — Crowder’s looked healthy while gelling with new QB Alex Smith. Good timing, as the slot man enters a contract year.
Crowder handled 27 of 29 team punt returns last year. While he averaged a poor 6.3 yards per return, he’s just a year removed from posting 12.1 YPR and 1 TD (also on 27 attempts).
And it’s not like this staff has lost faith. HC Jay Gruden said in June that he “anticipates Jamison being the return guy.” Another 25-30 opportunities are within reach.
Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks
HC Pete Carroll said this offseason that Lockett was never fully healthy in 2017. Lockett, you'll recall, suffered a broken leg in December of ’16. Now back to full health -- and set for a bigger target share -- perhaps we’ll see more of his rookie-year explosiveness.
That year (2015), Lockett averaged 9.5 yards per punt return and scored once. He added a 25.8-yard average on kicks — plus another TD.
What’s interesting is how Lockett actually scored a 99-yard return TD in 2017. He ranked 2nd league-wide with 25.6 yards per return.
He struggled with punts, however, notching only 6.6 yards per. That beat only 4 qualifying return men (Kerwynn Williams, Jamison Crowder, Jabrill Peppers and Jalen Richard).
Dante Pettis, WR, 49ers
The 49ers traded up for Pettis in Round 2 of the draft. A 2017 All-American at Washington, Pettis not only brings plus athleticism on offense — he shows it on special teams, too.
He tallied an NCAA record 9 punt return TDs across 4 seasons, including 4 as a senior. He ranked top-10 in yards per return in 2015, 2016 and 2017. For his career, Pettis averaged a sparkling 13.7 YPR.
He’s a good bet to at least take punt return duties from Trent Taylor.
Antonio Callaway, WR, Browns
Callaway missed all of last season on suspension. Despite the character red flag, Cleveland felt comfy enough to trade up for the former Florida Gator in Round 4.
He missed a portion of spring practices with a thigh injury, but he should be fine for camp. There, he’ll battle Corey Coleman for #3 WR duties — and S Jabrill Peppers (among others) for return duties.
Here’s how special teams coordinator Amos Jones described Callaway’s strengths, per ESPN.
“Sticking his foot into the ground and running vertical. The things you saw him do at the University of Florida, which was catch the ball, extremely comfortable with getting underneath of the ball and catching it and being able to stick a foot into the ground and get vertical. We labeled it as running as if he is a running back. Those are the big plays that you see him being able to make.”
Potential to earn #3 WR duties and a regular return role puts him on the radar in deep leagues.