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Top 10 NFL Punt Returners of All Time Rankings

Ranking the best Punt Returners in NFL history such as Dante Hall, Deion Sanders, Brian Mitchell, and many more as Devin Hester leads the way as the best Punt Returner of All-Time


By admin | July 1, 2022

The history of the NFL has produced many great players and even a solid list of the best players of All-Time. While many focus on the top tier positions such as quarterback or wide receiver or even middle linebacker, another position that is well worth looking at are punt returners. In all, not every player in the NFL can do what a punt returner does on a game-to-game basis which makes the best punt returners of all time list very special

Think about it, a punt returner stands back waiting for the punt to arrive while opening the door to be hit by an opposing defensive member running full speed down field.
That said, the many great punt returners to do it have not shied away from it while delivering the team a chance to make a big play with just one return.

As you look at the most exciting players in the NFL the punt return for a touchdown ranks as high as any including within the game.
Over the years there has been a long list of players who could take it to the house on any punt including Devin Hester who might be the most feared punt returner of all-time. Other top punt returners all-time include Brian Mitchell, Dave Meggett, and Eric Metcalf.

With that said, here is our list of the Top 10 Punt Returners All-Time Rankings.

Honorable Mention

Jermaine Lewis

Team(s): Baltimore Ravens, Houston Texans & Jacksonville Jaguars

The former Baltimore Ravens wide receiver and return specialist was one of the best punt returners to play in the NFL.

His ability to return kicks showed up during the teams Super Bowl XXXV win, however that return was a kickoff return and not a punt return.

That said, Jermaine Lewis finished his career with the 8th most punt return yards in the history of the NFL.

In addition, Lewis is tied for 6th All-Time in career punt returns for a touchdown with six touchdown returns. Lewis led the NFL in punt returns, punt return touchdown and yards per punt return during the 1997 season.

  • Super Bowl champion (XXXV)
  • First-team All-Pro (1998)
  • Second-team All-Pro (2001)
  • 2× Pro Bowl (1998, 2001)
  • NFL punt return yards leader (2001)

Darrien Gordon

Team(s): San Diego Chargers, Denver Broncos, Oakland Raiders, Atlanta Falcons & Green Bay Packers

Just missing the Top 10 NFL Punt Returners All-Time rankings list is the former Stanford Cardinals stand out and San Diego Chargers 1st round draft pick during the 1993 NFL draft Darrien Gordon.

Gordon who might often get looked past put together a solid career as a cornerback but even better career as a punt returner.

Gordon finished tied for 6th in punt return touchdowns with six total and fourth in punt return yards with 3,601 over his long NFL career.

  • 2× Super Bowl champion (XXXII, XXXIII)
  • Second-team All-Pro (1997)
  • PFWA All-Rookie Team (1993)

Top 10 NFL Punt Returners

10. Billy Johnson

Team(s): Houston Oilers, Atlanta Falcons & Washington Redskins

Landing at number 10 on the Top 10 NFL Punt Returners All-Time rankings list is the former Houston Oilers great Billy “White Shoes” Johnson.

Johnson can be remembered for his play on the football field and even for his push for touchdown celebrations.

Johnson finished his career ranked 7th All-Time in punt return yards with 3,317, tied for 6th in punt return touchdowns with six total, and a Pro Bowl MVP award after returning a punt 90 yards for a touchdown.

  • NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1983)
  • 3× First-team All-Pro (1975, 1977, 1983)
  • 3× Pro Bowl (1975, 1977, 1983)
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team

9. Darren Sproles

Team(s): San Diego Charger, New Orleans Saints & Philadelphia Eagles

You can say anything you want about the 15-year NFL veteran Darren Sproles; one thing is for sure he had all the abilities as a player to be the best at what he did. One of those things was his ability to be one of the greatest punt returners of All-Time.

Sproles, who spent time with the San Diego Chargers, New Orleans Saints, and the Philadelphia Eagles, lacked size compared to other returners, but made up for it with his agility, vision, and speed. Sproles finished his career tied for 5th in punt return touchdowns with seven total. 

  • Super Bowl champion (LII)
  • Second-team All-Pro (2014)
  • 3× Pro Bowl (2014–2016)
  • San Diego Chargers 50th Anniversary Team
  • NFL 2010s All-Decade Team
  • Most all-purpose yards in a season (2,696)

8. Desmond Howard

Team(s): Washington Redskins, Jacksonville Jaguars, Green Bay Packers, Oakland Raiders & Detroit Lions

The former Michigan Wolverines standout All-American and former Heisman Trophy winner didn’t disappoint after arriving at the NFL level.

Howard, who bounced around the NFL, could make a play out of nearly anything while finishing with the 4th most punt return touchdowns in the history of the NFL (8).

In addition, Howard also recorded 2,895 punt returns over his NFL career and posted the only NFL Super Bowl MVP as a return specialist after taking a kickoff 99 yards.

While the touchdown wasn’t a punt return touchdown, Howard is still one of the best to return punts in the history of the NFL.

  • Super Bowl champion (XXXI)
  • Super Bowl MVP (XXXI)
  • First-team All-Pro (1996)
  • Pro Bowl (2000)
  • PFWA All-Rookie Team (1992)

7. David Meggett

Team(s): New York Giants, New England Patriots & New York Jets

In number seven on the Top 10 NFL Punt Returners All-Time rankings list is the former New York Giants, New England Patriots, and New York Jets returner David Meggett.

Meggett would go on to record a 10 season NFL career while being considered one of the best punt returners during his playing days as well as All-Time.

Meggett currently ranks 2nd All-Time in punt return yards with 3,708 and tied for 5th with seven punt return touchdowns.

  • Super Bowl champion (XXV)
  • First-team All-Pro (1989)
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro (1990, 1996)
  • 2× Pro Bowl (1989, 1996)
  • 1988 Walter Payton Award
  • New England Patriots All-1990s Team

6. Rick Upchurch

Team(s): Denver Broncos

The longtime Denver Broncos star wide receiver and return specialist was a jack of all trades and a dangerous punt returner who opposing teams had to worry about.

After a strong rookie season, Upchurch set the NFL record for punt return touchdowns, recording four over the course of the season. Overall, Upchurch would go on to score four more times on punt returns over his career.

His performance on the field helped him earn multiple accolades including four trips to the NFL Pro Bowl and five All-Pro selections (3 first teams, 2 second teams). 

  • 3× First-team All-Pro (1976, 1978, 1982)
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro (1977, 1979)
  • 4× Pro Bowl (1976, 1978, 1979, 1982)
  • NFL 1970s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
  • PFWA All-Rookie Team (1975)
  • Denver Broncos Ring of Fame
  • Denver Broncos 50th Anniversary Team

5. Brian Mitchell

Team(s): Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles & New York Giants

It’s very rare to see a player bounced around just one NFL division but that is the case with Brian Mitchell who played for three of the four teams in the NFC East with the lone exception being the Dallas Cowboys.

After 14 NFL seasons, Mitchell retired as the All-Time leader in punt returns with 4,999 missing the 5k mark by just one return yard. Furthermore, Mitchell also was ranked 2nd at the time of his retirement with nine punt return touchdowns. 

  • Super Bowl champion (XXVI)
  • First-team All-Pro (1995)
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro (1991, 1994)
  • Pro Bowl (1995)
  • Washington Redskins 70th Anniversary Team
  • 80 Greatest Redskins
  • Washington Commanders Ring of Fame
  • Most career kickoff return yards: 14,014
  • Most career punt return yards: 4,999
  • Most career total return yards: 19,013

4. Dante Hall

Team(s): Kansas City Chiefs & St. Louis Rams

The former Kansas City Chiefs and St. Louis Rams great Dante Hall is not only possibly the greatest kick returner of All-Time, but he is one of the top punt returners All-Time as well.

Hall, who was known as the X-Factor or even the Human Joystick could turn a game around with one punt return despite the opposing teams believing they had him stopped.

This led teams to start kicking it away from him on both punt returns and kick returns. When his career was over, Hall finished it with six punt return touchdowns and 2,261 punt returns.

  • First-team All-Pro (2003)
  • Second-team All-Pro (2002)
  • 2× Pro Bowl (2002, 2003)
  • First-team NFL 2000s All-Decade Team (punt returner)
  • Second-team NFL 2000s All-Decade Team (kick returner)

3. Eric Metcalf

Team(s): Cleveland Browns, Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers, Arizona Cardinals, Carolina Panthers, Washington Redskins, and Green Bay Packers

Looking around at the top punt returners of All-Time it is hard not to include Eric Metcalf as one of those well deserving of a mention.

The 13-year NFL veteran would go on to finish his career 5th All-Time in punt return yards with 3,453 and the second most punt returns returned for touchdowns with 10.

Metcalf and Devin Hester are the only players with double digit punt returns for touchdowns. His performance as a returner helped him earn three Pro Bowl selections and two first-team All-Pro honors.

  • 2× First-team All-Pro (1993, 1997)
  • 3× Pro Bowl (1993, 1994, 1997)
  • NFL kickoff return yards leader (1990)
  • Cleveland Browns Legends

2. Deion Sanders

Team(s): Atlanta Falcons, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins and Baltimore Ravens

No matter what you like to call him, Deion Sanders is one of the greatest football players to play the game and one of the best punt returners All-Time.

Sanders, who is also called Prime Time and Neon Deion, could make a play out of anything on nearly any punt making teams fear punting his direction.

Sanders, who was one of the fastest players to play the game at times, had vision, agility, and excellent speed making him a dangerous punt returner anytime the ball came his way.

The NFL Hall of Famer finished his career with 2,199 career punt return yards and six punt returns for a touchdown.

  • 2× Super Bowl champion (XXIX, XXX)
  • NFL Defensive Player of the Year (1994)
  • 6× First-team All-Pro (1992–1994, 1996–1998)
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro (1991, 1999)
  • 8× Pro Bowl (1991–1994, 1996–1999)
  • NFL 1990s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • PFWA All-Rookie Team (1989)

1. Devin Hester

Team(s): Chicago Bears, Atlanta Falcons, Baltimore Ravens & Seattle Seahawks

There is really no debate needed in announcing that Devin Hester is the greatest punt returner of All-Time. Hester who recorded an NFL record 20 total return touchdowns also set the NFL record for most punt returns returned for a touchdown with 14 total.

No matter if teams attempted to kick away from him or not, Hester would find a way to make a return happen while making the opposing team miss him.

To go along with the 14 punt returns for a touchdown, Hester recorded 3,695 total punt returns between four different NFL teams.

His return abilities also earned him three NFL Alumni Special Teams Player of the Year Awards, four Pro Bowl trips and three first-team All-Pro honors.

  • 3× First-team All-Pro (2006, 2007, 2010)
  • Second-team All-Pro (2011)
  • 4× Pro Bowl (2006, 2007, 2010, 2014)
  • 3× NFL Alumni Special Teams Player of the Year (2006, 2007, 2010)
  • NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 2010s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • 100 Greatest Bears of All-Time
  • 20 total return touchdowns, career
  • 14 punt return touchdowns, career
  • 6 total return touchdowns, season (tied)

How would you rank the greatest Punt Returners in NFL history? Rank below to be added in the Power Rankings.

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Players Count 10
  1. Desmond Howard

    PR All-Time
  2. Josh Cribbs

    PR All-Time
  3. Devin Hester

    PR All-Time
  4. Eric Metcalf

    PR All-Time
  5. Billy Johnson

    PR All-Time
  6. Darrien Gordon

    PR All-Time
  7. Jermaine Lewis

    PR All-Time
  8. Herschel Walker

    PR All-Time
  9. Rick Upchurch

    PR All-Time
  10. Darren Sproles

    PR All-Time
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