Since the NFL moved touchbacks to the 25-yard-line in 2016, kick-return TDs have gone 7, 7, 5, 7 and 7. Last year, 2 of those 7 scores came via onside kicks. (Hat tip to CeeDee Lamb and A.J. Brown.)
In the 5 years prior, we saw 9, 13, 7, 6 and 7 kick-return TDs.
So there’s been a dip, as you’d expect. No surprise, then, that 2020 wasn’t a great year for fantasy contributors on special teams.
Of the 38 players with 10+ kick returns, only 2 cracked the top-50 fantasy scorers at their respective position: Chase Edmonds (RB25) and Tony Pollard (RB41). Edmonds handled 18 returns; Pollard saw 32. Only Cordarrelle Patterson returned more kicks.
As for yardage, the impact was minimal. While Pollard averaged a solid 4.8 fantasy points per game via returns, Edmonds averaged just 2.6.
Naturally, not much changed on the punt return side. Of the 31 guys with 10+ attempts, only 2 finished as top-50 fantasy performers: CeeDee Lamb (WR24) and Nyheim Hines (RB18). Lamb chipped in 1.7 fantasy points per game on returns; Hines tallied 1.9.
There simply aren't very many fantasy-relevant assets returning kicks and punts anymore. Guys like Tyreek Hill and Tyler Lockett — a pair with 7 combined return scores — are now non-factors. You won’t find many high-end studs in the list below.
So, who is set to contribute on returns this fall? Let's dig in.
Note: Fantasy point totals shown below assume 1 point per 10 return yards; 6 points per return score
Pollard racked up 7 kick return scores across 3 seasons at Memphis. More importantly, he’s emerged as Dallas’ primary return man in each of his first 2 pro seasons.
Even in the game Ezekiel Elliott sat out last year — Week 15 at San Francisco — Pollard returned 1 kick for 20 yards. The added responsibility supplies a small boost to his handcuff profile.
Barring a surprise twist, Lamb will remain Dallas’ go-to punt returner.
“I don’t view players graduating from special teams,” HC Mike McCarthy said via The Dallas Morning News. “Because at the end of the day, I think it’s important from a job description and job responsibility standpoint. And, outside of our specialists and your quarterback, you like to be able to see your players do more than one thing.”