2014 Special Teams Rankings
Many fantasy football leagues award points for return TDs. Some even score for return yards and scores by individual players. If that's your league, check out our 2014 Special Teams Rankings.
1. Minnesota Vikings
The Vikings have shown some promise in recent years in the return game, but now they are the most electric unit in the league. WR Cordarrelle Patterson was huge last year on kick returns, including a pair of TD dashes. CB Marcus Sherels ranked 3rd in the league with a 15.2-yard punt-return average and added a TD of his own.
2. Baltimore Ravens
WR Jacoby Jones has been a kick-return threat since his rookie year in 2007. His 8 career return TDs show that he’s capable of taking it to the house at any opportunity. Jones has returned a TD every year except 2010, so it's fair to expect him to take at least 1 to the house this year.
3. St. Louis Rams
The Rams have some exciting young talent in the return game. RB Tavon Austin is a fun guy to watch and ran 98 yards for a TD on a punt return as a rookie. He appears set to hold down punt-return duties again, with RB Benny Cunningham in line to join Austin on kick returns. Cunningham actually averaged 0.9 more yards per return (23.0 on 13 returns vs. Austin's 22.1 on 18) last year. Neither returned a kick for more than 32 yards, though, which could leave Isaiah Pead 1 last opportunity to prove he's not totally worthless. A stud return man in college, Pead averaged 27.6 yards on just 7 kick returns over 10 games last year.
4. Arizona Cardinals
CB Patrick Peterson tied an NFL record as a 2011 rookie by returning 4 punts for TDs. But he hasn't found the end zone since and saw his average slip to just 6 yards per return last year. The team signed return stud Ted Ginn in the offseason and could put him to work on punts and kicks, which Peterson has rarely handled. Last year's lead kick returner, CB Javier Arenas, moved on to Atlanta this offseason.
5. Kansas City Chiefs
The Chiefs had more return TDs (4) than any other team in the NFL last year but watched their top 2 return men walk in free agency. Dexter McCluster took his 2 punt-return scores to Tennessee, while Quintin Demps and the league's #3 kick-return average (30.1) raced to the Giants. Knile Davis remains, however, and took a kick to the house amid just 10 returns last year. Rookie De'Anthony Thomas should help as well, after taking 4 kicks and a punt back for TDs at Oregon. The Chiefs might regress from last year's TD lead, but they should also remain among the top return units.
6. Detroit Lions
WR Jeremy Ross made a big impression last year, returning 2 TDs in 1 game against Philly. He averaged an impressive 33.5 yards per kick return, but he only did it over half the year. With a full-time job, he could turn in a huge season for Detroit.
7. New York Giants
The Giants struggled mightily in the return game last year, coughing up fumbles and generally performing inconsistently. They addressed that issue by signing KR/PR Trindon Holliday, immediately legitimizing their return game. Holliday was an electric player for Denver the last two years, notching 6 TD returns (including postseason play).
8. Dallas Cowboys
Dwayne Harris ranked 5th in the league in punt-return average (12.8) and 2nd in kick-return average last year. His 1,199 all-purpose yards ranked 22nd in the league among all players. With punt-return TDs each of the past 2 years, Harris has clearly displayed his special teams value. And the Cowboys seem to have realized that he's not going to become a #3 WR. Sharpened focus on his return duties should keep Harris among the league's top performers.
9. Atlanta Falcons
Atlanta is higher on this list for 1 reason: It signed the greatest returner of all-time. Devin Hester is 31 but still led the league in return yards last year. A mere 1 TD over the last 2 years keeps him from pushing the Falcons further up this list.
10. Seattle Seahawks
WR Percy Harvin should see plenty of kick-return duty for Seattle. He, of course, took a kick back 87 yards for a TD in the Super Bowl and returned his lone regular-season kick for 58 yards. WR Jermaine Kearse could also be back there. That's especially worth noting, because Harvin hasn’t played a full season since 2011.
11. Pittsburgh Steelers
Pittsburgh’s special teams will be interesting this year because they added lightning-quick RB Dri Archer in the draft. GM Kevin Colbert has already compared him to former Detroit Lion Mel Gray, who earned 3 All-Pro nods as a return man. Archer has reportedly worked on relearning the return game since arriving after fielding just 2 total kicks as a senior. But he took 1 of those 2 for a 100-yard TD and returned 3 kickoffs for TDs as a junior. If he gets comfortable before the regular season, he could be electric. Even then, he still might have to fight off WR Antonio Brown for punt-return duties. Brown has served as the primary punt returner for 3 straight years, tallying 2 TDs and twice averaging at least 10.8 yards per return.
12. Houston Texans
Keshawn Martin lost 3.3 yards off his punt-return average last year to rank 20th in the league, but he did take 1 back for a TD. He also checked in 10th in the NFL with 26.3 yards per kick return. If he can keep the momentum going on that side and bring his punt-return consistency back up, Martin could prove to be somewhat of a sleeper. Dennis Johnson also flashed some promise on kick returns after taking 3 back for TDs in college.
13. Green Bay Packers
CB Micah Hyde stepped into the return role last year after WR Randall Cobb went down and was serviceable, returning 1 punt for a TD. He's expected to keep primary return duties in 2014, as the Packers want to keep Cobb more focused on offense. Cobb could add some sizzle if he still gets a few scattered return shots.
14. Tennessee Titans
The Titans present interesting competition for return duties. Dexter McCluster arrives from Kansas City after scoring 2 punt-return TDs last year and leading the league in punt-return yardage. The team re-signed WR Marc Mariani, who missed all of the past 2 seasons with injuries, but tallied 3 total return TDs for the Titans over the 2 years before that and ranked 7th in the league in all-purpose yards as a 2010 rookie. And 32-year-old Leon Washington remains after delivering the team's most effective return performances last year, averaging 13.0 yards per punt return and 30.1 yards per kick. Any combination of those players -- assuming Mariani's healthy -- should set the Titans up well.
15. Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals will apparently continue to rely on Brandon Tate as their lead returner despite getting just 1 total TD over his 1st 3 seasons handling kicks and punts for them. He has, at least, improved his kick-return average each season, up to a career-high 26.1 yards in 2013. (We're not counting a rookie year that saw him return just 4 kicks.) CB Adam Jones might still have some big plays in him at 31 after scoring on a punt return in 2012 and an INT return in 2013.
16. Cleveland Browns
The Browns' return game could deliver big value if they decide to let rookie CB Justin Gilbert return kicks. He racked up 6 kick-return TDs at Oklahoma State, with at least 1 in each of his 4 seasons. Gilbert didn't field a punt over his final 3 seasons there, though. If Gilbert's not the man, this could be a wide-open situation. Speedster Travis Benjamin suffered an ACL tear in November and must prove he's ready to retain return duties. CB Buster Skrine has stepped in with Benjamin out, his 1st return to returning since his college days. Second-year DB Jordan Poyer is also in the mix.
17. Buffalo Bills
CB Leodis McKelvin endured a tough punt-return year in 2013 but led the league with 18.7 yards per return and 2 TDs in 2012. And he actually averaged even more -- 19.5 yards -- per punt return over 8 chances in 2011 (including a TD). Marquise Goodwin did nothing special as the lead kick returner last year and never converted his top-shelf speed into much return value in college. Fellow speedster T.J. Graham might be fighting for a roster spot. We'll see how this one settles out.
18. New England Patriots
Julian Edelman's the incumbent here on punts, but the Pats will need to figure out the kick-return spot(s). LeGarrette Blount led the team in that area last year but has moved to Pittsburgh. Second-year WR Josh Boyce could turn into a primary candidate after returning 7 kicks last year. Matthew Slater, Devin McCourty and Danny Amendola also have experience -- if not any special ability to add.
19. Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles undeniably lost explosiveness in the punt-return game when they released DeSean Jackson this spring, but Damaris Johnson actually outperformed him in 2013. Johnson averaged 8.3 yards per punt return to Jackson's 5.1 and led the kick-return duties. Johnson also tallied 4 career return TDs over 3 years at Tulsa: 2 on kickoffs and 2 on punts. He led the nation in kick-return yardage as a 2008 newcomer. There could be upside here.
20. Denver Broncos
They lost return specialist Trindon Holliday, which was the biggest blow to any team on this list. The Broncos haven’t had a return TD since 2011 from a guy not named Holliday. As it stands, they might need to rely on Wes Welker to field punts. WR Andre Caldwell looks like the lead guy for kick-return duty. He has yet to return a kick more than 43 yards since entering the league in 2008.
21. Miami Dolphins
WR Marcus Thigpen is starting his 3rd year as the primary return man for the 'Phins and is coming off a down campaign. But he scored twice in 2012 -- 1 punt, 1 kick -- and ranked 10th in the league in all-purpose yards. So the potential's there.
22. Washington Redskins
Washington’s special teams could get a boost from WR DeSean Jackson coming to DC, but it seems unlikely that he’ll be the main guy back there. WRs Santana Moss and Niles Paul are the incumbents at the return spots, but the team would be better off if someone -- rookie RB Lache Seastrunk or 2nd-year RB Chris Thompson? -- beats them out for the jobs.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags have scored just 1 return TD since 2007. WR Ace Sanders is an exciting player but didn’t have great numbers returning punts. RB Jordan Todman performed solidly returning kickoffs last year but tallied just 1 return TD across 3 college seasons.
24. San Francisco 49ers
RB LaMichael James took over for Ted Ginn and WR Kyle Williams last year and did a nice job. He didn't find the end zone but did average 10.9 yards per punt return and 26.8 per kick. James proved even more efficient in kick-return duty as a rookie (29.8-yard average) but saw limited return duty in college. (He did take 1 punt back for a TD as a senior.)
25. San Diego Chargers
The Chargers project RB Danny Woodhead and WR Eddie Royal to be their returners. They each have extensive experience but are both getting up there in age. WR Keenan Allen was a punt returner last year, but the Chargers want him to focus on offense. It doesn’t seem likely that San Diego will present much return value this year.
26. Indianapolis Colts
The Colts aren’t a huge threat this year to take it to the house if WR Griff Whalen is their primary kick/punt returner. It's a different story if WRs LaVon Brazill and T.Y. Hilton get their hands on the ball. We'll keep an eye on the situation this summer.
27. New York Jets
WR Jeremy Kerley comes back as the primary returner for the Jets and will get some help from WR Clyde Gates. Neither is a world beater, though. Newcomer WR Jacoby Ford could factor into the return game but must prove he still has it after washing out in Oakland because of injuries.
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Eric Page had a decent season last year as their returner. He showed some playmaking ability with a few returns of more than 40 yards but presents more intrigue via his college history. Page notched 5 return TDs over his final 2 seasons at Toledo, including a nation-leading 3 kick-return TDs in 2010.
29. Carolina Panthers
The Panthers lost Ted Ginn to free agency and replace him with inexperienced RB Kenjon Barner. The 2nd-year back was just OK as a college returner, averaging less than 19 yards per kickoff return in each of his final 2 years of special teams duty.
30. New Orleans Saints
The Saints lost their 2 primary returners in the offseason, trading RB Darren Sproles and cutting WR Lance Moore. They now turn to unproven youngster RB Travaris Cadet, who averaged a nice 26.6 yards per kick-return in limited duty last year.
31. Chicago Bears
The Bears won’t be able to rely on Devin Hester’s services for the first time since 2007, so their special teams will undoubtedly take a step back. They have projected WR Eric Weems as the primary returner with RB Michael Ford chipping in a bit, too. Weems enjoyed a strong return season for the Falcons back in 2010 -- including TD returns on a punt and a kickoff -- but has been just OK otherwise.
32. Oakland Raiders
The Raiders lost Jacoby Ford to free agency and will look to 2nd year WR Greg Jenkins and CB Taiwan Jones to pick up the slack. They shouldn’t be trusted to make too many big plays in Oakland this year.