Draft Strategy

8 Targets in Return-Yardage Leagues

By Kevin English 10:06am EDT 6/25/20


Return-yardage leagues remain rare in fantasy. Yet they add another strategy element, boosting the outlook of some established studs and elevating those who might otherwise lack relevance.

The next 2+ months will ultimately determine roles. But heading into training camp, here are the impact guys when it comes to special teams.


Christian Kirk, WR, Cardinals

The Cardinals let returner Pharoh Cooper depart in free agency. Most relevant to Kirk, his loss removes 17 punt returns from 2019.

After seeing his opportunities drop from 21 as a rookie to 7 last year, Kirk will have a chance to recapture the primary PR role.

"I'm willing to do it," Kirk said via SI.com. "I'm always willing to do punt return. It's been a part of my game my whole entire life. So, if (special teams) Coach (Jeff) Rodgers asked me to go back there, I wouldn't even think twice about it. But that decision isn't necessarily on me, it's on Coach Rodgers. So, like I said, if he gives me the opportunity and he wants me to go back there, I'll be more than happy."

Kirk tallied 6 punt returns for TDs in college, so we know the talent’s here. It simply takes on increased meaning following the addition of DeAndre Hopkins. With a WR47 ADP, Kirk’s at least a low-risk mid-rounder -- with added upside in return-yardage leagues.


Tarik Cohen, RB, Bears

Cohen’s been the busiest punt returner in the league since 2017; his 95 returns sit 11 ahead of the next closest guy.

In 2019, that role afforded 33 opportunities for 302 yards. Only 2 returners (Deonte Harris and Kenjon Barner) handled more returns.

Cohen’s 9.2-yard average paled in comparison to his 12.5-yard figure from 2018. But that number was always a long-shot to repeat. If he can pair high-end receiving volume with greater efficiency, Cohen’s PR role will further support a PPR RB2 ceiling.


Nyheim Hines, RB, Colts

Hines’ rushing role will mostly evaporate behind Jonathan Taylor and Marlon Mack. But we’re still talking about someone with 107 catches over the past 2 seasons — 8th most among RBs. The Colts’ coaching staff has talked up Hines as a key outlet value for Philip Rivers, who’s no stranger to targeting RBs.

Then last year, Hines added punt return dominance to his résumé.

The 23-year-old was the only returner to score twice on punts. He totaled only 9 returns but averaged 31.2 yards per.

“I’d love to do punt and kick returns again,” Hines said via IndyStar.com. “But I’ve got to go out there and earn both of the jobs. That’s what I plan on doing. I’d like to start at both of them.”

We’ll see if he’s able to beat out Parris Campbell (and others) for at least the primary PR role. Consider Hines the early favorite, though.


Mecole Hardman, WR, Chiefs

Hardman took over Tyreek Hill’s punt return role as a rookie. The results? A strong 9.3-yard average on 18 attempts. As a kick returner, Hardman averaged 26.1 yards and recorded the longest return of the season (104 yards).

With low projected volume on offense, Hardman’s role as a dual return man helps cushion any volatility.


Jalen Raegor, WR, Eagles

The Eagles selected Raegor 21st overall to supply an explosive element to the passing game.

As a bonus, the TCU product also brings return value. Boasting top-end speed, Raegor compiled 312 yards and 2 TDs across 21 career punt returns (14.8 YPR). He added 13-287 (22.1 YPR) on kicks.

Indications are that he’ll continue double dipping in the pros. HC Doug Pederson said after the draft that Raegor adds “versatility on special teams as a punt returner and possible kick return guy.” Team insider Adam Caplan, speaking on the Inside the Bird Podcast, said Philly had Raegor as “either the number 1 or number 2 graded punt returner [in the 2020 draft].”

We’ll see how a shortened offseason impacts how much Philly puts on the rookie’s plate. But with minimal competition, Raegor should at least slide into the primary PR role.


Diontae Johnson, WR, Steelers

Johnson performed extremely well as a rookie punt returner; his 12.4 yards per return led 38 qualifiers with 10+ attempts. He mixed in a league-high 85-yard score on 20 attempts.

Perhaps an ascending offensive role limits his returns a bit. But we still expect the 2nd-year man to lead Pittsburgh in punt returns.


Tyler Lockett, WR, Seahawks

We've already made the case that Lockett’s a value in 2020 drafts. His worth rises in return yardage leagues, although it’s not drastic.

Lockett’s kick and punt returns have declined in 2 straight seasons. He tallied 27 total returns for 345 yards in 2019 — and no return went beyond 33 yards. He had a 40+ yard return in each of his first 4 seasons.

Lockett’s offensive role remains as vital as ever, so expect another part-time special teams gig.


Others with return potential: Cowboys WR CeeDee Lamb, 49ers WR Brandon Aiyuk, Broncos WR K.J. Hamler, Colts WR Parris Campbell, Cardinals WR Andy Isabella, Jaguars WR Dede Westbrook, Giants WR Golden Tate


Sleeper

Steven Sims, WR, Washington

Injuries to Trey Quinn, Paul Richardson and Vernon Davis helped Sims move up the target ladder last season. But he was an instant factor on special teams, ranking 1st league-wide in kick returns; 2nd in kick return yardage. Sims was one of only 7 guys league-wide to score on a kick return.

Washington used a Round 3 pick on RB/WR/KR Antonio Gibson, who could factor into the return scene. Yet after a strong rookie year, Sims appears to be in the driver’s seat.

"In an ideal setting, if you have a legitimate returner [Sims] and your off-returner [Gibson], who is 30 pounds bigger than your returner, if he doesn't get the ball he becomes a blocker," ST coach Nate Kaczor said in May. "And he weighs 220 [pounds]. That's a really good situation. If they don't really want to kick it to one guy and they want to kick it to your other one and he's really good, then you have a heck of a situation there."

Sims is only in play for deep PPR leagues. But return upside — paired with Washington’s thin WR depth — at least provides some late-round appeal.


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