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Top 10 NFL Kick Returners of All Time Rankings

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

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By Fan Rankings | June 02, 2022 - 07:11 PM

One of the most electrifying plays in sports takes place on the football field. That play is the kick return which could also include a punt return.

Despite each team fielding at least one kickoff a game (each half), not all kick returners are created equal and not every fast or athletic football player has the talent to be a great returner let alone of the Top 10 Kick Returners All-Time. 

 


Kick returning is an art that starts with the ability to field a kick, set their eyes up field, scan left and right before showcasing that explosive speed through holes, back across the field and eventually to unmanned green grace between the returner and the end zone. 

While it sounds easy on paper, the fact is that there are few great kick returners over the course of NFL history.



Much like a quarterback putting fear in opposing defenses, a great kick returner can also induce fear in opposing teams based on their ability to change field position in a matter of seconds. 

Heck, not only change field position but also change the momentum of the game and help set up a short field if not a touchdown for their team.



With that said, here is our list of the Top 10 Kick Returners All-Time:




Honorable Mention

Allen Rossum

Team(s): Philadelphia Eagles, Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys

Coming in just outside of the Top 10 Kick Returners All-Time rankings list is the former cornerback and return specialist Allen Rossum.

Rossum, who played his college football at Notre Dame made himself a big-time threat on any kickoff or punt upon being drafted in 1998 by the Philadelphia Eagles.

Over his 12 year career, Rossum posted 514 career returns for 11,947 yards to go along with five return touchdowns. In addition, Rossum added three punt return touchdowns.

Accolades:
  • Pro Bowl (2004)
  • NFL Punt Return Yards Leader (2003)



 

Dave Meggett

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

Typically, you don’t get to see players from small time schools land on All-Time rankings list but that is the case with Dave Meggett who played at Morgan State and Towson both located within Maryland.

While Meggett racked up eight rushing touchdowns over his career, his return game helped make his career in the NFL.

The former New York Giants, New England Patriots and New York Jets returner posted 5,566 career kick return yards to go along with one kickoff return touchdown. Meggett also did a ton of damage on punt returns, returning seven for touchdowns.

Accolades:
  • 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



 

Top 10 Kick Returners

10. Herschel Walker

Teams: New Jersey Generals, Dallas Cowboys, Minnesota Vikings, Philadelphia Eagles, 

New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys

While the hype was all around Herschel Walker including his ability to potentially be one of the greatest running backs ever, Walker put together a solid NFL career.

Walker, who was part of one of the most lopsided NFL trades of All-Time also posted solid return numbers.

Over his entire NFL career, Walker posted 215 kick returns to go along with 5,084 return yards and two return touchdowns. In 1996, Walker averaged 28.9 yards per return on 27 total returns.

Accolades:
  • 2× Second-team All-Pro (1987, 1988)
  • 2× Pro Bowl (1987, 1988)




9. Darren Sproles

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

All over this list of the Top 10 Kick Returners All-Time rankings are top tier running backs who could make plays both on offense as well as in the return game.

Another name well deserving of a spot on this list is Darren Sproles who averaged 25.2 yards per return over his career on kickoffs.

Sproles returned 332 career kicks for 8,352 return yards to go along with two kick returns. In addition, Sproles added seven punt returns for touchdowns and 2,961 punt return yards.

Accolades:
  • 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. Rick Upchurch

Team(s): Denver Broncos

The long time Denver Broncos wide receiver put together a solid career in the NFL from 1975 to 1983. Upon the Broncos selecting Rick Upchurch from the University of Minnesota, Upchurch played a key role among the team.

Upchurch showcased his talents as a dynamic kick returner as well as punt returner including returning a 67 yard kick in his only Super Bowl appearance.

Upchurch amassed 2,355 return yards to go along with 3,008 punt return yards as well as eight punt returns.

Accolades:
  • 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



7. Desmond Howard

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

After taking home the Heisman Trophy in 1991 as a member of the Michigan Wolverines, the Washington Redskins selected Desmond Howard with the fourth overall pick.

While his speed failed to help him become a big time wide receiving threat, Howard did become one of the best returners during his playing days.

Howard racked up at least 1,000 yards in four different seasons while also returning eight punts for touchdowns. 

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



6. Deion Sanders

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

Deion “Prime Time” Sanders was a true playmaker on the defensive side of the ball as well as a returner in both punts and kick returns.

Sanders, who had the speed to take a ball to the house no matter how it landed in his hand, made opposing teams worry on each play.

Over his career, Sanders posted 3,523 return yards with three return touchdowns as well as six punt return touchdowns. His ability to make a big play forced teams to kick away from him or short to limit his play making abilities.

Accolades:
  • 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)




5. Dante Hall

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

The “X-Factor” Dante Hall made a living in the NFL as one of the greatest kick returners/punt returners to take to the field on game day.

Hall who started his career with the Kansas City Chiefs was able to use breakaway speed, quick jukes, and ability to see the field to open up running lanes earning him an All-Pro honor as well as the other nickname the “Human Joystick” Hall’s best season came in 2004 when he finished with a league high 1,718 return yards and two kick returns.

Over his entire NFL career, Hall racked up 10,136 return yards to go along with six kick returns as well as six punt returns.

Accolades:
  • 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)




4. Brian Mitchell

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

Landing inside of the Top 10 Kick Returners All-Time rankings list is the long time NFL returner Brian Mitchell.

Mitchell, who made a name for himself as one of the best returners in the NFL, could help set up great field position for his team on nearly any kickoff. Mitchell spent from 1990 to 2003 playing in the NFL including his first 10 years with the Washington Redskins.

Over his career, Mitchell returned 607 kicks for 14,014 return yards with four return touchdowns. In addition, Mitchell added 463 career punt returns with nine punt returns for touchdowns.

Accolades:
  • 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




3. Gale Sayers

Team(s): Chicago Bears

Known as one of the top running backs to play in the NFL during his career, Gale Sayers was just as good of a returner. Sayers, whose career was cut short, was as dominant as any player to play in the NFL.

Over 91 career returns, Sayers racked up 2,781 return yards with six kick returns all with the Chicago Bears. In addition, Sayers posted two punt returns and averaged 30.6 kick return yards per return.

Accolades:
  • NFL Comeback Player of the Year (1969)
  • NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year (1965)
  • 5× First-team All-Pro (1965–1969)
  • 4× Pro Bowl (1965–1967, 1969)
  • 2× NFL rushing yards leader (1966, 1969)
  • NFL scoring leader (1965)
  • George Halas Award (1970)
  • NFL 1960s All-Decade Team
  • NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • NFL 100th Anniversary All-Time Team
  • Chicago Bears No. 40 retired
  • 100 Greatest Bears of All-Time




2. Josh Cribbs

Team(s): Cleveland Browns, Oakland Raiders, New York Jets, Indianapolis Colts

The longtime Cleveland Browns star was known during his playing days as a game changer who could flip the field on any kick or punt return.

Cribbs, who played eight years with the Browns made two Pro Bowl teams as a specialist as well as taking home one All-Pro honor, racked up 11,113 kick return yards to go along with eight return touchdowns.

Cribbs also added 2,375 punt returns and three punt return touchdowns. In six of his 10 years in the NFL, Cribbs racked up at least 1,000 kick return yards with his best season coming in 2007. 

Cribbs finished 2007 with 1,809 return yards while averaging 30.7 yards per game while leading the NFL in both statistics.

Accolades:
  • First-team All-Pro (2009)
  • Second-team All-Pro (2007)
  • 3× Pro Bowl (2007, 2009, 2012)
  • NFL Alumni Special Teams Player of the Year (2009)
  • NFL 2000s All-Decade Team
  • Cleveland Browns Legends
  • Most career kickoff return touchdowns: 8 (tied with Leon Washington and Cordarrelle Patterson)




1. Devin Hester

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

Landing at number one on the Top 10 Kick Returners All-Time rankings list is another Chicago Bears star in Devin Hester.

Hester, who forced teams to punt and kick the ball out of bounds, was a threat to return a kick for a touchdown anytime the ball hit his hands.

While Hester did most of his damage as a punt returner including returning 14 punt returns, Hester was just as good of a kick returner. The Bears All-Pro returner finished his career with 7,333 kick return yards and five kick returns.

While Hester lands at number one, a few of the other top kick returners are well deserving of the top honor and could make for a great debate.

Accolades:
  • 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 Kick Returners in NFL history? Rank below to be added in the Power Rankings.

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