Many of us play in leagues where kick and punt return yards count for fake points that could translate into real money or a false sense of happiness. But how much stake do you put into return ability? Last year many jacked Devin Hester’s value up thinking that since he was becoming a bigger part of the offense, coupled with the insane return numbers he had the year before, he would be a monster in return yardage leagues. Well, as you know Hester’s production fell mightily with the additional wide receiver duties he had to hold in. I know how that feels, umph. So there is a balance between offensive production and return production. There are very few #1 RB’s or WR’s who also produce top 10 return numbers. Only three of the top 10 kick returners were also offensive threats, but still not starters: Darren Sproles, Jerious Norwood and Leon Washington. Four of the top 10 punt returners were threats: Johnnie Lee Higgins, DeSean Jackson, Leon Washington, and Reggie Bush.
A lot of kick and punt returners value comes from your league’s set up. If you get points for return yards and there is a starter out there who also returns kicks or punts then his value goes up, but say you have a 3rd down back or a 3rd or 4th receiver that also returns, then you have to do a little more calculating. Does a 3rd WR who returns kicks have the same value as a #2 WR who doesn’t? Does he have potentially more value? In deep leagues this is much easier. You get those players who are most versatile in your scoring system. Or say you are in a salary cap league like TSN’s Salary Cap Football and you need a player who has upside, but isn’t too expensive, you grab these guys up. Always know your scoring system in and out. People don’t like to read the details so when you do you can take advantage.
It is impossible to know for 100 percent certainty who will fill the PR/KR roles at this point in the preseason, but here are some duel threats worth looking at:
1. Darren Sproles: It looked like Sproles could really cut into LT’s production after last season, but it now looks like he’ll stay a return man and a change of pace back. Of course you have to try to get him if you draft LT, but in return yardage leagues he is worth much more than just a handcuff.
2. Josh Cribbs: This versatile player will see more work as a WR this year, but will continue to return punts and kicks. And you could also see him behind center in the Wildcat or the Tame Dog or something.
3. Leon Washington: He will continue to get kick return duties while also getting more touches in what looks like a rbbc. Sanchez will need to check down quite a bit and I see Washington getting checked down a lot.
4. Reggie Bush: With him already getting tweaked and yinked and crinked in training camp he is of course a huge injury risk, but if you are going to risk a pick on him, a return yardage league is where to do it.
5. Percy Harvin: If he fields kicks and punts, is a wide receiver, and walks on water he could be Purple Shiva.
6. Steve Breaston: He gets a lot of looks from the Power Chair, but since he’s a third WR he still gets return work. And a Breaston the hand is better than two in the bush. Wait, is that right?
7. Johnnie Lee Higgins: The three-named player also has three tools, but thankfully only takes one out at a time and never in front of children. He will continue to get work in the return game where he is elite and also should be more involved in the passing game especially with Chaz Schilens breaking his foot. Yes, he plays for the Raiders, but NFL games last a long time and some yards have to be gained by the Raiders this year, at least a couple.
8. Felix Jones: Jones is already going as a flex option in many drafts so his return yardage bumps him up a few notches. He can do things with just a few touches on offense, but when he doesn’t he’ll still grab you a few positive points from the return game.
9. Jerious Norwood: He will continue to get 3rd down work and kick returns. Plus he will see more touches this year to keep Turner from running out of nickname fuel.
10. Davone Bess: How much his starting status effects his return status is yet to be seen, but I believe he’ll continue to some degree. I continue to find positive fantasy tid-bits from this guy. Grab him before Davone Fever catches!
11. Ahmad Bradshaw: The Pepper in the Grind and Pepper duo. Or the Spit in the Chew and Spit. Or Dash in the Dine and Dash, anyway, he’s the quick little scrappy fella and Jacobs is the monster who will break your face. Bradshaw should get kick returns.
12. Lance Moore: Any starting WR for the Saints who also returns punts is worthy of some consideration. I really don’t see Meachem doing anything to hurt his value so this is another added bonus.
13. Devin Hester: Hester’s adp has dropped like a turd in a punch bowl in the last few months after the Cutler shine wore off him. He still will return punts and there really was good reason for the hype. He has a year as a WR under his belt and a MUCH better QB throwing to him. As long as Jay Cut doesn’t throw him under the bus again he’s worth a hard look in return yardage leagues.
14. Patrick Crayton: He will receive punt return duties because Felix Jones couldn’t do it. Crayton has pretty much won the #2 WR position across from Roy Williams and will get plenty of looks this year. Bump him up like he’s Women’s Softball on ESPN when Favre unretireretires.
15. Wes Welker: He returns punts, but isn’t spectacular at it. It gives him a minuscule boost. But if you are in a ppr league and a return yardage league, that is what we call Dubya Dubya double dip!
16. Santana Moss: He is head-noddingly yawnstipating, but he does gain a little value here. When he gets 0 to 1 receptions he at least will get half a point on punt returns.
17. Roscoe Parrish: Roscoe, he sounds like an old hound who likes to spend all day sleeping on the porch dreaming of chasing rabbits and . . . wait, no this Roscoe plays for the Bills and is one the best return men in the league, but that’s about all your going to get from him unless a receiver gets injured in front of him and he turns away and lets a truck run over him.
18. Jacoby Jones: A great return man, but doesn’t get much time on the field otherwise. Similar to Roscoe, but with a completely different name.
19. DeSean Jackson: DJax will have to take on a much bigger role this season if the Eagles want to win so I believe he won’t see as much work in the return game. Maclin is getting the preseason work as the return man, but doesn’t look ready for a big role as a WR just yet. Keep an eye on DJax this preseason if his return yardage is the deciding factor for you.
EDIT: Keep an eye on these guys during the preseason. If they get full time return positions they are very much worth consideration in return yardage leagues: Eddie Royal, Robert Meachem, Deon Butler, Mike Wallace, Shaun McDonald, Andre Davis, Ted Ginn Jr, Jamaal Charles, and Jeremy Maclin