Outside of a wild, game-ending, lateral-filled Hail Mary to end a game, there is no single play more exciting in football than a successful kick return. For starters, kick-returners have got to be a little screwed up to do what they do. On a kickoff, 10 players are barrelling down on you at breakneck speed (and the kicker) with the intention of knocking your head into the nosebleed seats of the stadium - and it's even worse during a punt return, because if a gunner times his run right, he could get a good shot in on a punt returner who isn't paying attention.
If the returner does manage to escape the wrath of the opposing special teams, it means he's out there looking The Road Runner being chased by Wile E. Coyote - zipping through the grasp of opposing players and zagging through packs of massive bodies en route to the endzone.
For as wild and haphazard as the whole thing looks, kick returning is in fact a beautiful art form within the rugged game of football. It takes incredible vision, razor sharp instincts, animal-like reflexes and enough speed to outrun a gazelle. Put all that together and you have the perfect returner.
Over the years, there have been plenty of return-men who have come and gone. Some have flashed with a TD return here and there, while others caved under the enormous pressure of the position.
There were a select few, though, who took the art of kick-returning and transformed it into a masterpiece. While kick returners are usually considered an afterthought, the names on this list earned a reputation as the most electrifying players of their era - so talented that they alone were worth tuning in to their teams on game day.
15 Michael Bates
14 Eric Metcalf
13 Rick Upchurch
12 Jacoby Jones
11 Desmond Howard
10 Brian Mitchell
9 Mel Gray
8 Billy Johnson
7 Josh Cribbs
6 Gale Sayers
5 Ollie Matson
4 Leon Washington
3 Dante Hall
2 Deion Sanders
1 Devin Hester
Did you really think there was a chance anyone else was going to be at the top of this list?
Devin Hester is the undisputed champion of the world when it comes to returning kicks. He holds the record with 20 total touchdowns (14 punts, good for first all time, and six kicks). Hester was (and still is, to a certain extent) a returner who was feared when he trotted out onto the field to receive a kick. There are few players in the history of the sport who have had the kind of game-breaking ability Devin Hester has brought to the NFL over his 9-year career.
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