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Top 10 Best Kick Returners in College Football 2023 Rankings

Ranking the best kick returners in College Football for the 2023 NCAA season as Matthew Golden of the Houston Cougars leads the way


By admin | October 23, 2023

The game is loaded with exciting plays that take place during each game. One of those plays that has the potential to be a game changer and possibly the most exciting play in football is the kickoff. While many if not most kickoffs are not returned, when they are the opportunity to witness a player take it from end zone to end zone arises. A kickoff return for a touchdown by the home team drives excitement into the fan base while an opposing player’s return can knock the wind right out of the team and stadium. Ultimately whether the kickoff is returned for a touchdown or to mid field, having a great kick returner to provide any NCAA team great field position is key. That is the case as you look at the top returners landing on the Top 10 Best Kick Returners in College Football 2023 Rankings list.

One kickoff returner who has stood out atop the list of the best returners in college football is Matthew Golden of the Houston Cougars. As the 2023-2024 NCAA Football season approaches the final week plus of October, Golden remains the only player to return two kickoffs for a touchdown to start the season while completing the task on just five total returns. Joining Golden on the list of the top kick returners include wide receivers Jayden Harrison, Brashard Smith, Julian Gray, and Elijah Badger. Here is a look at the Top 10 Best Kick Returners in College Football 2023 Rankings:

Honorable Mention

Jacob De Jesus

School: UNLV Rebels

Position: Wide Receiver

Just missing the Top 10 NCAAF Kick Returners 2023 Rankings is the UNLV Rebels wide receiver and kick returner Jacob De Jesus. Jesus, who is making the most of his playing during the 2023-2024 NCAA Football season has made plays both in the passing game as well as within the return game.

The Rebels junior has pulled in two touchdown receptions but his ability to set up great field goals has been an added weapon to the Rebels offense.

On the season De Jesus currently ranks 16th in the country with 324 return yards including a 96 yard return. Overall, the Rebels returner has averaged 29.5 yards per return this season over 11 total kick returns.

Mekhi Mews

School: Georgia Bulldogs

Position: Wide Receiver

The Georgia Bulldogs are loaded with talented players all across the field on both sides of the football as well as on special teams. One of those players is two way star Mekhi Mews who has breakaway speed while playing both at the receiver position as well as a strong returner for both kickoffs and punts.

Mews has been as consistent as any returner in football this season while averaging 27.2 yards per return over 10 total returns. Meanwhile the Bulldogs returner has also added 170 yards and a touchdown while returning punts. 

Top 10 Best Kick Returners in College Football 2023 Rankings

10. Kobe Johnson

School: Colorado State Rams

Position: Running Back

Coming in at number 10 on the Top 10 NCAAF Kick Returners 2023 Rankings is the Colorado State Rams wide receiver and kick returner Kobe Johnson. Johnson is as electrifying as any player in college football and the proof has shown up with his ability to take a kickoff nearly the length of the field.

Johnson has been limited as returner has racked up 179 total yards on just five returns including one returned for a touchdown. As kickers look to keep the ball out of his hands, the Rams running back is just one step away from adding his second return of the season.

In addition, the senior running back has also been involved in the team’s running attack adding 128 yards and one rushing touchdown.

9. Kenny Johnson

School: Pitt Panthers

Position: Wide Receiver

Any player that has the ability to make a play with the ball in his hands is a dangerous one for opposing teams to game plan for. That is the case for the Pitt Panthers wide receiver Kenny Johnson who has taken one kickoff back 100 yards for a touchdown this season while posting 236 total return yards on just seven returns.

Currently Johnson ranks tied for sixth in college football while averaging 33.7 yards per return over the start of the season.

The talented freshman wide receiver from Dallastown, Pennsylvania arrived with the Panthers as a three star recruit at the position. Despite being limited on the offensive side of the ball, Johnson has been a game changer on special teams all season.

8. Zachariah Branch

School: USC Trojans

Position: Wide Receiver

Entering his freshman season with the USC Trojans, Zachariah Branch arrived as the seventh overall football recruit in the country, the top overall wide receiver recruit, and the top high school football player in the state of Nevada.

Branch who is built to play the receiving position has the elite breakaway speed to be a great returner as well. That has shown up this season for the Trojans as Branch has posted a 24.1 yards per return average over his first nine kickoff returns including one returned 96 yards for a touchdown.

Meanwhile Branch has made plays all over the field including returning a punt for a touchdown and catching two touchdowns on offense.

7. Braeden Wisloski

School: Maryland Terps

Position: Wide Receiver

Another talented freshman making the list as one of the top kick returners is the Maryland Terps Braeden Wisloski. While the Terps currently use Wisloski on special teams, he has added value to the team while being able to flip field position on nearly any kickoff return.

Braeden, who was from Pennsylvania, was a former three star recruit while landing on to play with the Terps. On the season the Terps kick returner is averaging nearly 30 yards per return (29.6) over his first seven returns including a 98 yard return touchdown. 

6. Sam Martin

School: Temple Owls

Position: Safety

Another name that is often overlooked due to the fact he plays for a smaller football school is Sam Martin of the Temple Owls. Martin, who is playing his first year of college football as a freshman with the Owls has played limited on the defensive side of the football to start the season.

However, as Martin has played himself into a player who can play every play on defense, his ability to rank among the best kick returners in the country has been on display from the start of the season.

Currently Martin ranks fifth in the country after posting 424 total return yards on 19 total returns. In addition, the Owls returner posted one 95 yard kickoff return to start off his college resume.

5. Elijhah Badger

School: Arizona State Sun Devils

Position: Wide Receiver

Rounding out the Top 5 on the Top 10 NCAAF Kick Returners 2023 Rankings is the Arizona State Sun Devils. As the 2023-2024 NCAA Football schedule approaches late October, Badger currently sits in the lead posting 470 kick return yards over his first 17 returns of the season.

As Badger has also been a key player in the passing attack pulling in 33 catches for 422 yards and two touchdowns, his play making abilities on the kickoff makes him as dangerous as any player in the country. Over those 17 returns this season, Badger ranks first in return yards and tied for ninth in average yards per return (27.6). 

4. Julian Gray

School: NC State Wolfpack

Position: Wide Receiver

It is hard to look past the big play potential of the NC State Wolfpack wide receiver as he is as gifted and as fast as any returner in the country. The former four star recruit who ranked among the top 50 wide receivers in the country as a senior in high school has delivered for the Wolfpack all season while ranking among the best returners in the country.

Entering the second to last week of October, Gray currently is tied with a solid group of players for number two who have all returned at least one kickoff for a touchdown. In addition, Gray currently ranks eighth in kick return yards (401) while also averaging 28.6 yards per return this season.

3. Brashard Smith

School: Miami Hurricanes

Position: Wide Receiver

If you’re looking for a game changer with the football in his hands and a player who can take it the length of the field on nearly any play the Miami Hurricanes junior wide receiver is the guy.

While Smith has been limited in the team’s passing attack pulling in just nine catches for 182 yards and two touchdowns, the talented wide receiver from Florida has been brilliant on kickoffs all season.

Over his first 10 returns of the season, Smith has posted an average 34.6 yards per return while racking up 346 total yards. Among those 10 returns, the Hurricanes wide receiver and returner returned one 98 yards for a touchdown.

2. Jayden Harrison

School: Marshall Thundering Herd

Position: Wide Receiver

As you start to look around at the most talented returners in college football, one name that stands out is Jayden Harrison. The Marshall Thundering Herd junior wide receiver and kick returner has been active all season long on both sides of the football.

Despite posting just 202 yards and one touchdown as a receiver, Harrison has been brilliant as a kick returner while adding a ton of value to the Thundering Herds offense.

Currently Harrison enters the current week of the 2023-2024 NCAA Football season ranked third in the country with 449 return yards while also averaging 32.1 yards per return. To go along with those strong numbers Harrison added one 95 yard kickoff return for a touchdown this season.

1. Matthew Golden

School: Houston Cougars

Position: Wide Receiver

In atop the Top 10 NCAAF Kick Returners 2023 Rankings is the Houston Cougars wide receiver Matthew Golden. Golden is a special player who despite only having returned five kicks all season, has posted 255 total return yards while scoring two kickoff return touchdowns and averaging 51 yards per return.

In addition to his ability to make a big play on special teams, Golden has also used his speed and size to pull in 27 catches for 295 yards and four touchdowns on the offensive side of the football. Golden should continue to build his NCAA resume while ranking among the best returners in the game.

How would you rank the Best College Kick Returners in the 2023-2024 BCS season? Rank below to be added in the NCAA Power Rankings

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