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Players with Upside in Fantasy Football Return Yards Leagues

By Kevin English 1:22pm EDT 7/25/23

Return Yards Fantasy Production: Who Can You Trust?

I have a confession. 

I don’t know each team’s primary returner for 2023… 

But you know what? A good chunk of the league isn’t sure, either.

Training camps just opened. This is the time when roles are won and lost. 

Injuries, new coaching staffs, and surprise performers pop up. Think Isiah Pacheco and his 597 return yards from a year ago.

So, the names listed below are educated guesses, based on 2022 stats, depth chart projections, and offseason reports.

This article will be updated throughout the summer as fantasy-relevant return roles become clearer. 

Our Draft War Room gives you a sleek and hassle-free fantasy draft experience. It can even account for your fantasy league with return yards.

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Top Fantasy Football Returners

Antonio Gibson, RB, Washington Commanders

Coinciding with a reduced role on offense, Gibson fielded kick returns last year for the first time in his career. 

He posted 23.1 yards per return on 21 attempts. Nothing special, but 3.1 yards more than No. 2 returner Dax Milne (15 attempts). 

Recall that at Memphis, Gibson excelled as a senior with a 28.0-yard average and one score.

With RB Brian Robinson back for year two, Gibson should return to a change-of-pace and return role. The contract-year back looks to get through a season healthy for the first time in his NFL career.

TIP

See how Gibson stacks up in our RB rankings vs. ADP

Jerome Ford, RB, Cleveland Browns

When WR Jakeem Grant suffered a torn Achilles last August, Ford stepped into the primary kick return role.

In fact, Ford tallied 30 opportunities – a number topped by only two returners. And he did so in only 13 games.

If healthy, Grant could reclaim the primary return role. But he’s not a roster lock. The same holds true for Demetric Felton, another return candidate.

Besides, it sounds like the team isn’t interested in reducing Ford’s touches.

"He's been the No. 1 kickoff return guy during these spring practices, so I don't see that [a role reduction] happening," RB coach Stump Mitchell said. "I see him being the same guy." 

Return snaps aside, Ford’s on track to handle Cleveland’s No. 2 RB role. He’s an ideal bench stash behind Nick Chubb.

Rashid Shaheed, WR, New Orleans Saints

Shaheed came out of nowhere in 2022. (FCS school Weber State, to be exact.)

WR injuries – mainly to Michael Thomas – allowed the UDFA to flash a deep ball skill set. He caught 6 of 7 deep targets (20+ air yards) for 284 yards and 2 TDs. 

Crazy.

As for special teams: Shaheed led the Saints with 34 total returns for 513 yards. The next two busiest returners – Deonte Harty and Dwayne Washington – no longer play for New Orleans.

Shaheed’s downfield game makes him more relevant for your best ball strategy. But his floor certainly rises if he’s able to retain a full-time return role.

Mecole Hardman, WR, New York Jets

The Jets gave Hardman a one-year deal with ~$4 million guaranteed. And it wasn't just to play WR.

In fact, the Jets look fine at WR with Corey Davis set to stick around. Their depth should keep Hardman in a part-time role on offense – and a full-time role on returns.

Braxton Berrios combined for 43 returns last year with the Jets. He's currently in Miami. Rookie RB Israel Abanikanda might pose some threat on kick returns – he flashed there at Pittsburgh – but Hardman should be considered the favorite.

For his career, the 25-year-old owns 1,482 combined return yards and two scores.

Tank Dell, WR, Houston Texans

Dell rarely handled punt returns at Houston. The results proved strong, though: 10 attempts, 160 yards, and 1 score.

Now, special teams coach Frank Ross wants to develop Dell’s return potential.

“There’s a God-given athleticism element, of course, where guys know how to just not spend too much time decelerating or it’s just easier for guys to run as a smaller guy,” said Ross, via USA Today. “He’s got that quickness, that suddenness that hopefully he can translate to when he’s out there live with the ball in his hands.”

Dell sits way down the WR rankings. Just keep him in mind as a deep-league PPR option given (1) a likely short-range, high-efficiency role and (2) Houston’s unsettled WR corps.

TIP

Teammate Nico Collins made our updated list of fantasy football sleepers.

 

Other return candidates to monitor: James Cook, Devon Achane, Pierre Strong, Skyy Moore, Jayden Reed, Tutu Atwell

 

Get a Cheat Sheet That Factors in Return Yards

Developing a round-by-round game plan for your draft is essential. One that accounts for all of your league's settings and rules, including return yards.

We project return yards for all 32 teams, which are then factored into the rankings on the Draft War Room's customized cheat sheet.

See how our Draft War Room helps you draft smarter than your competition:

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