NFL: Who is the best punt/kick returner in league history?
Few things in the NFL are more enjoyable than watching a great punt or kick return. It is a spectacular view to watch a returner switch on the afterburners and weave his through a crowd of players all the way into the endzone. Perhaps what makes it more bedazzling is just how rare a kick/punt is returned for a touchdown.
Case in point, there were only seven instances of a kick/punt return for a touchdown in the 256 games played during the NFL regular season in 2020. A.J. Brown (Titans), Devin Duvernay (Ravens), CeeDee Lamb (Cowboys), Cordarrele Patterson (Bears), Byron Pringle (Chiefs), Isaiah Wilson (Colts), and Brandon Wilson (Bengals) were the seven players to return a kick/punt for a touchdown in the 2020 NFL season.
Kick/punt returns is an art that only a few have mastered in over 100 years of the NFL. But of that handful, a couple stands out. And below, we cast an eye over the best punt and kick returner in the history of the NFL.
Best punt returner in NFL history - Devin Hester
Devin Hester finished his career with 14 punt returns for touchdowns, which is the most in the history of the NFL. He is also third on the list of punt return yard leaders with 3,695 behind Brian Mitchell (4,999) and Dave Meggett (3,708). Drafted in second-round of the 2006 NFL draft by the Chicago Bears, Hester led the league in punt return yards and touchdowns (three) during his rookie season.
Hester made four Pro Bowls and received first-team All-Pro on three occasions during his storied career. The University of Miami product, who (along with the Bears) also played for the Baltimore Ravens, Seattle Seahawks, and Atlanta Falcons. He retired in 2018, but will forever be remembered as one of the best returners of all time and certainly the best punt returner in NFL history.
Best kick returner in NFL history - Joshua Cribbs
Cleveland Browns legend Joshua Cribbs is the joint all-time leader in kick returns for a touchdown with eight alongside Cordarelle Patterson and Leon Washington. He is also third on the list of the all-time kick return yards leader with 11,113 behind Brian Mitchell (14,014) and Allen Rossum (11,947).
The three-time Pro Bowler wasn't a flashy player or an elusive runner with the ball. He mostly trucked over opposing special teams with his explosiveness, agility, and near-heroic strength. The undrafted wide receiver spent eight of his 10 seasons in the NFL with the Cleveland Browns before playing a season each for the New York Jets and Indianapolis Colts.
Joshua Cribbs is the best kickoff returner in NFL history, and he wasn't too bad at fielding punts either, running three of those for touchdowns in his career.