Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Oct 2007

How Good Is Hester?

by Vince Verhei

In one of his recent TMQ columns on ESPN.com, Gregg Easterbrook dropped this nugget of info:

"Devin Hester has fielded 93 kicks in his career and run eight back for touchdowns."

Well, that's an eye-grabber, isn't it? I mean, that can't possibly be right. And it turns out, it's not right. Hester has fielded 95 kicks in his career: 35 kickoffs, 59 punts and one field goal. Apparently Easterbrook missed "plus" and hit "minus" when totaling Hester's stats. And "fielded" may not be the right term, because these numbers don't include Hester's 16 fair catches.

Regardless, Hester has scored eight total touchdowns on 95 total kick returns, an average of one touchdown per 11.9 returns. How does that compare to the greatest kick returners in league history?

To answer that, we have to decide what makes a great kick returner. The NFL Record and Fact Book lists leaders for combined kick returns on its kickoff returns page. There is also a page for punt return records.

The all-time leader in combined kick return touchdowns is Brian Mitchell with 13 (nine punts, four kickoffs). In second is Eric Metcalf with 12 (10 punts, two kickoffs), then Dante Hall with 11 (five punts, six kickoffs). But since those are career totals, players with shorter careers (such as Hester) obviously don't compare. Mitchell played 13 years; Hester has played just 20 regular-season games.

We should look at each player's touchdown rate, not touchdown total. And while we're figuring numbers for Mitchell, Metcalf, and Hall, we may as well look at other great players from the kickoff and punt returns pages.

Our list looks like so:

  • The all-time record holders in combined kick return touchdowns in a single season. Hester actually set this record with five last year (He is not given credit for returning the missed field goal -- more on this later). Nine men (Jack Christiansen, Emlen Tunnell, Gale Sayers, Travis Williams, Cecil Turner, Billy "White Shoes" Johnson, Rick Upchurch, Hall, Eddie Drummond) have scored four times on kick returns in a season.
  • The top three men in total career kickoff return yardage: Mitchell (14,014 yards), Mel Gray (10,250), and Glyn Milburn (9,788).
  • The three all-time leaders in kickoff return average: Gale Sayers (30.56), Lynn Chandnois (29.57), and Abe Woodson (28.69).
  • The all-time leaders in kickoff return touchdowns. The NFL lists several men here in three groups: Those with four career scores on kickoff returns (Turner, Ron Brown, Jon Vaughn, Andre Coleman, Tamarick Vanover, Tony Horne, Mitchell, Darrick Vaughn and Terrence McGee); those with five (Bobby Mitchell, Woodson, Timmy Brown, and Michael Bates) and those with six (Ollie Matson, Sayers, Williams, Gray and Hall).
  • The career leaders in punt return yardage: Brian Mitchell (4,999), David Meggett (3,708) and Darrien Gordon (3,601).
  • The career leaders in punt return average: George McAfee (12.78), Christiansen (12.75) and Claude Gibson (12.55).
  • The career leaders in punt return touchdowns. Metcalf holds the record with 10. Brian Mitchell has nine. Three men have eight: Christiansen, Upchurch and Desmond Howard.

Counting Hester, that's 32 of the greatest kick returners in NFL history. I'm going to add one more name to the list: Deion Sanders. I'm including his name for two reasons: 1) With six career touchdowns on punt returns and three more on kickoff returns, he just missed showing up on these lists, and 2) His jersey is hanging on my wall, and I want to see where he stacks up.

Before we get to the final numbers -- which, by the way, come courtesy of Football @ JT-SW.com -- we have to make one more adjustment: We're taking Hester's missed field goal return away. Call it fair, call it unfair, but since none of these other guys ever had an opportunity to return a missed field goal (as far as I know), we're removing it to even the playing field for everyone.

The final results, with "Touchdown rate" being the ratio of combined kick returns to combined touchdowns, so lower is better:

PLAYER KICK
RETURNS
KR TDS PUNT
RETURNS
PR TDS COMBINED
RETURNS
COMBINED
TDS
TD
RATE
Devin Hester 35 3 59 4 94 7 13.4
Gale Sayers 91 6 27 2 118 8 14.8
Travis Williams 102 6 13 1 115 7 16.4
Jack Christiansen 59 0 85 8 144 8 18.0
Bobby Mitchell 102 5 68 3 170 8 21.3
Ollie Matson 143 6 65 3 208 9 23.1
Darrick Vaughn 103 4 0 0 103 4 25.8
George McAfee 18 2 112 2 130 4 32.5
Cecil Turner 108 4 27 0 135 4 33.8
Jon Vaughn 103 3 0 0 103 3 34.3
Tony Horne 143 4 7 0 150 4 37.5
Deion Sanders 155 3 212 6 367 9 40.8
Claude Gibson 16 0 110 3 126 3 42.0
Timmy Brown 184 5 71 1 255 6 42.5
Terrence McGee 171 4 0 0 171 4 42.8
Rick Upchurch 95 0 248 8 343 8 42.9
Abe Woodson 193 5 123 2 316 7 45.1
Andre Coleman 193 4 43 1 236 5 47.2
Dante Hall 376 6 198 6 574 12 47.8
Ron Brown 199 4 0 0 199 4 49.8
Billy Johnson 123 2 282 6 405 8 50.6
Emlen Tunnell 46 1 258 5 304 6 50.7
Eric Metcalf 280 2 351 10 631 12 52.6
Lynn Chandnois 92 3 66 0 158 3 52.7
Tamarick Vanover 226 4 197 4 423 8 52.9
Darrien Gordon 5 0 314 6 319 6 53.2
Eddie Drummond 213 2 108 4 321 6 53.5
Mel Gray 421 6 252 3 673 9 74.8
David Meggett 252 1 349 7 601 8 75.1
Desmond Howard 359 0 244 8 603 8 75.4
Michael Bates 373 5 10 0 383 5 76.6
Brian Mitchell 607 4 463 9 1070 13 82.3
Glyn Milburn 407 2 304 1 711 3 237.0

Some of these players are Hall of Famers. Some are Super Bowl Champions. Some had a moment in the sun, then faded into obscurity. And all of them wish they were as good as Devin Hester. It's doubtful that he'll be able to maintain this kind of success as he gets older -- Travis Williams, for example, scored four times (on only 18 returns!) his rookie year with the Packers in 1967, then scored on only two more returns the rest of his career -- but what he's doing right now is unprecented.

How good is Devin Hester? So far, he's the best there's ever been.

Posted by: Vince Verhei on 04 Oct 2007

54 comments, Last at 14 Oct 2007, 5:52pm by mike

Comments

1
by B (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:01pm

Thanks, I was wondering about that stat when TMQ posted it, especially the "fielded" term that seems to include fair catches but obviously those weren't included in the numbers.

2
by James, London (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:06pm

Was Hester a return threat in college?

3
by James G (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:11pm

I'm curious what Hall's rate was 4 games into 2003. At that point, I think he was way up the list.

4
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:19pm

My God, that's the second Tamarick Vanover "sighting" in two days.

5
by dryheat (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:27pm

#2 yes. In fact, he was drafted solely because of it. In the second round no less.

He also pretty much singlehandedly got Ted Ginn drafted #9 overall, which is rivaled only by Peyton raising Eli to #1 overall status.

(But Brady's still better...he got Kyle Brady drafted in the first round while still in High School.)

6
by coldbikemessenger (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:41pm

I’m curious what Hall’s rate was 4 games into 2003. At that point, I think he was way up the list.

20 rets
3 tds
8 fc's

7
by rageon (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:47pm

A couple things:

First, I'm not a big fan of using TDs as a sole indicator of greatest. Would you rather have a KR who had 10 returns, 2 for TDs, and 8 that barely got to the 20 yard line; or another who never scored a TD, but took a couple to mid-field, a couple more to the 40, and the rest within 25-35 yard lines? Hard to say, I suppose, as KR TDs are guaranteed TDs, while good field position only leads to a certain probability of TDs, but still, I imagine it's a question worth asking. Would average, or median yardage, be better? Worth a look. Although obviously, punts and kicks would have to be considered seperately.

Second, how many of these players lost effectiveness with age, thus reducing their TD Rate? Dante Hall, for example, was an absolute monster for a while, and as a Denver fan, I remember going through the days of "why the heck would you kick to him!?" But I don't feel that way anymore. (I'll get to the numbers later)

I believe a comparison of Hester to other player's "peak" seasons may be more useful. I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Hester probably isn't going to get better than he is now, so he's probably at his peak. How about looking at the best two, maybe three, seasons from the so-called great kick returners.

As for Dante Hall, he's got 12 TDs in 8 seasons -- 7 of them came over 2 seasons, and 9 over 3. Certainly his rate during those peak seasons is well above his career. His TD Rate for 2002-03 is about 24.5, and his 2002-04 rate is about 29.2.

His career punt return average is 10.1 yards, but his peaks were 14.8 (02-03) and 13.5 (02-04). His career average was was 68% of his 2-year peak.

His career kick return average is 24.0 and his peaks were 24.8 and 25, making his career 96.7% of his peak. However, is credit his an easy 20 yards for each return, and use what I've just named "Marginal Kick Return Yards", his career average is 4.04 and peaks are 4.84 and 5.0, which makes his career number 80% of his peak, certainly more of what I would have expected.

I won't do the analysis for the others on this list (I've already collected enough tax money from the state of Minnesota while working on this), but I assume it holds true for some of the others.

I do not disagree that Hester is a great returner, but I would like to see some additional analysis before declaring his the greatest.

8
by Lou (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:48pm

so how do these guys compare when they were at their peak? Couldn't you take the most productive stretch of 94 combined kick returns for the other guys and see how they compare to Hester.

#2 theres a ridiculous highlight video linked in my name. The returns against Duke are unreal.

9
by Roundhouse (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:53pm

I'd also like to see fumbles factored in. Hester fumbles a lot (which is bad, I know, but bear with me), especially last year when he muffed at least a half dozen punts all year. Technically, those are returns, so those numbers would be even more ridiculous if you only counted the returns in which he got to run.

10
by Joe T. (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:54pm

Just keep in mind we're comparing Devin Hester, who is only 2-3 seasons into his career, to guys with 8-10 year careers.

TDs are what make the highlight reels, but what about total return yards? How does a guy who reels off the occasional touchdown stack up against a returner with fewer TDs but a higher average yards per return? Who would be the bigger contributor?

Great article nonetheless.

11
by rageon (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 1:55pm

One last point. I don't have the numbers to back it up, but I assume that kick return TDs and punt return TDs occur, on average, at different rates. Some of the men on this list were primarily one or the other. Perhaps a separate break down of each of the two is necessary.

12
by Tom (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 2:16pm

Hester is definitely a boom and bust returner. However, I think he may be more Barry Sanders, and less Jamal Lewis.

13
by TED F!@#ING GINN!? (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 2:21pm

Re: 2,5

I did some research comparing Tedd Ginn's & Devin Hester's college careers. The numbers I used come from rookiepedia.com (for Ginn), and wikipedia.com & hurricanesports.cstv.com (for Hester).

I had to use 2 sources for Hester because wikipedia lists 6 career college return TDs and all the other sources I found list 5. It turns out one of those 6 was a blocked FG. So in my numbers, I'm removing that just like Vince did for the NFL numbers.

For their college careers:

Ginn had 16 TDs in 189 attempts.
Hester had 5 TDs in 51 attempts.

Ginn TD Rate: 11.8
Hester TD Rate: 10.2

14
by fyo (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 2:21pm

How about defining touchdown rate properly? (i.e. the INVERSE of what you're doing)

15
by FullmoonoverTulsa (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 2:22pm

#7 - If I am Chicago, I need the home run threat.

16
by rageon (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 2:25pm

OK, I think this will really be my last point. I'm not certain, but I would assume that moving kickoffs to the 30 had some effect on the numbers of TDs per return. If so, those time periods may not be able to be compared without some adjustment for league average.

17
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:11pm

Query: can we really consider Hester the best returner in league history if his team doesn't ever lead the league in Punt Return or Kick Return DVOA while he's there? I know it's early this year, but the Bears are 2nd in punt returns and 19th, I think, in kickoff returns. Last year, meanwhile, the Bears were 2nd in punt returns and 9th, I think, in kickoff returns.

Hester thus far has demonstrated an awesome ability to return kicks for touchdowns. This is an important part of being a kick returner, but not all of it. Most importantly, Hester is bad at holding onto the ball, which I consider a huge negative.

I got into it with somebody else over the offseason over whether or not Hester was a clearly superior returner to Pacman last year; I'll try to dig up the link. In the meantime, see link in name for a comparison of Mel Gray and Brian Mitchell (comments 159/174 in particular).

18
by Eddo (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:24pm

12: This year, Hester seems to be less boom-or-bust than last year, albeit with a seemingly higher fumble rate. Against both the Chiefs and Lions, he had several longish returns - in fact, he had nearly 300 total returns yards against the Lions.
As a Bears fan, I've never seen a more exciting player. Time may slow him down, but these last 20 games have been amazing, no matter how you want to measure.

19
by NewsToTom (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:26pm

See link in name for the comments where I argue Pacman was good a returner as Hester. So far this year, Hester has been a much better returner than Pacman, but I'm sure you could have figured that out without me telling you.

20
by Dennis (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:44pm

Re 16: I don't think moving the kickoffs back makes a difference. Touchbacks aren't part of the stats, so the only difference it would make is if a guy was tackled inside the 5. I can't recall very many instances, if any, of someone breaking a kickoff return and then getting tackled inside the 5. If they make it to the 5, they make it to the endzone.

21
by Slinky (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:58pm

rageon is hating. watch the games. hester has seemingly 2 returns a game where he is down to the last tackler before he reaches paydirt and just gets nipped.

sometimes you have to apply the eyeball test. hester, like randy moss, looks like hes playing schoolyard football with the younger kids. Hall had an impressive run for 4 or 5 games, but nothing like this. 8 TD in 18 games. Colt kicked out of bounds in the Super Bowl, man. How often does a returner get that kind of respect?

22
by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 3:58pm

But which player has cried the most? I'm guessing Vanover.

23
by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 4:02pm

How much of a factor do you suppose the blockers are to a returner? I wonder if maybe kick/punt returner might be one of the more isolatable performances in football. Yeah, the blocking is important, but it seems like most returns are not due to great blocking as much as it is speed and making people miss.

24
by Richie (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 4:06pm

#20, but before kickoffs were removed, wouldn't most kicks be returned from inside a returner's 5-yard line, while after the move, they field more from the 5-15 yard line than before, giving them a 10-yard advantage.

But then, that 10 yards probably doesn't make much difference. It's not like guys are returning the ball 90 yards and then getting tackled. Returns are usually sprung within the first 30 yards of the return.

We need some kind of adjusted return yardage stat, where only the first 40(?) yards of each return are counted, and then averaged.

25
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 4:11pm

23

Watch the Bears return a kick, or the Ravens, and then watch the Broncos try to return a kick.

Blocking is more important than the returner is. Hester is a great returner behind a great blocking unit.

There have been a couple of kick returns that have been all him, but there have also been quite a few that pretty much any kick returner could run back.

26
by rageon (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 4:12pm

In re: 21 -- No, rageon is not "hating." I'm just being skeptical about simply looking at some stats and saying, "yep, he's the best." I strongly disagree with you that we simply apply an "eyeball test." I come to Football Outsiders because that's exactly what they don't do. They challenge conventional thinking through the use of analysis. This sort of process cuts through people subjective opinions and historical beliefs, and allows us to use objective, statistical analysis to figure out what's really going on.

I'm looking at this article as a good starting-point for a discussion on the greatest kick returners of all time. But it doesn't necessarily "proves" anything in my mind. I'm asking some questions that myself, and perhaps others, would want answered before making up our minds.

As for Hester himself, I could care less. He's just a player to me and I have no ambition to prove him as either the greatest or not so. And if you re-read my comments, you'll notice that the player I used (Dante Hall) has statistics inferior to that of Hester. If I was out to get Hester, I could probably cherry-pick some stats to find someone better. Instead, I choose a player who I believed (through personal observation) had a strong peak and then an extended dropoff. I then checked the numbers to see if this was true. And it looks like it was. I had absolutely no goal of trying to down-grade Hester. He's obviously a great returner, but he's got some flaws (fumbles), and it remains to be seen how long he keeps this up.

27
by rageon (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 4:26pm

23: then watch the Broncos try to return a kick.

Don't remind me.

28
by Karl Cuba (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 4:30pm

Re 8: OMFG that's some jaw dropping stuff

29
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 5:31pm

Bear fan here so take this with a grain of salt... this is unlike any returner I have ever experienced. When the ball is caught (and he hangs on to it) you hold your breathe until he is tackled.

This article is crediting him with 7 TD's. This doesn't count the superbowl kick, (didn't he have one in the probowl?), another preseaon TD, and the 2 or 3 kicks that were called back by penelty. I know some of those are woulda coulda shoulda's, but that tallies up to over 12 TD's to a guy in his second year.

To throw in some punt returning stats, he leads the league in average return with 19.9 per kick Second place has 17.2 with half of the attempts. He is second in the league in return attmepts. So his lone TD is not pulling his average up. He leads the league in punt return yardage 238 to 148.

30
by Rich Conley (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 6:02pm

"and the 2 or 3 kicks that were called back by penalty"

The reason we don't include those, is that in the vast majority, without the foul, the TD never happens.

31
by Lou (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 6:11pm

As a Bear fan I think Hester fumbles just to up the hold your breath factor. The guy is unbelievably electric, unlike anyone I've ever seen in a Bears uniform. I'm too young to remember Sayers or Payton. Glynn Milburn was great for a while, but this... I have to compare watching him to my fear of Barry Sanders or Favre or Randy Moss.

As someone who visits this site regularly I kept telling myself lastyear that this was going to be a short time thing, but he keeps doing it.

Rageon I think you bring up excellent points. I would definetly like to see a comparison between Hester now and those other guys at their peaks. I don't know if theres a difference between punt a kick return TD rates, but I would assume there is. That must be accounted for. I'm not sure how dramatically Kickoff distance has affected TDs but its worth examining. Maybe if Hester keeps it up the Outsiders will expanded on this for the Chicago article in PFP 08

32
by rageon (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 6:27pm

Small sample size alert:

In 1967, Gale Sayers returned 3 of 16 kicks, and 1 of 3 punts, for a "TD Rate" of 1 TD per 4.75 returns -- almost exactly 3 times as often as Hester.

33
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 6:41pm

#30-I agree with that to a point, but I recall the block in the back against the seahawks in the playoffs and also the penelty in the chiefs game not directly affecting the return. If hester has already run by the defender when the block happens, its unlikely that he would have been caught him from behind.

Watching other teams I see a lot of flags on returns, I still don't see that many of them being returned for 6.

34
by Mike (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 6:50pm

32- how about you find another returner to score 7 TD's in fewer than 100 returns at any point in thier career?

Gale may be close but after that you are going to see a steep drop offf.

35
by James G (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 7:00pm

20/24 - The move back of the kicoffs made a huge difference in the amount of scoring in the NFL (as anybody that played fantasy back in '92 and '93 can attest to), so I bet it would actually make a sizeable difference on kickoff returns as well, not just on touchbacks.

36
by Sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 8:01pm

One of two things will happen: 1) He'll either come back down to earth like what happened to Dante Hall, the one-time MVP candidate who's now basically just another guy, or 2) Teams will quick kicking to him completely. Either way, he's not going to get 7 TDs every year.

37
by Dan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 8:02pm

There is a gap between kickoffs & punts. Among the guys on that chart (just adding up the totals in each column), the average is 1 TD per 56.5 kickoff returns vs. 1 TD per 41.3 punt returns. Limit it to the top 20 guys on the list, and it's 1 per 35.0 kick vs. 1 per 29.4 punt. Among the top 10, 1 per 22.2 kick vs. 1 per 19.8 punt.

38
by Ryan (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 8:14pm

I contend that if every team starts kicking it out, giving the bears starting field position at the 40 on every drive, Hester is automatically MVP.

39
by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 10/04/2007 - 11:01pm

38: Because starting at the 40 would put them only a couple of defensive penalties from stalling out right on the edge of field goal range...or setting up a nice long interception return for a TD!

40
by JeffW (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 12:02am

"How good is Devin Hester? So far, he’s the best there’s ever been."

Best ever at scoring return TDs, maybe, but the case for him being the best returner ever is far from comprehensive. You have to look at his yards/(return+fair catch), fumble rate and touchdown rate(least important of the three--a TD is equal to about ten yards in value).

41
by Eddo (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 12:41am

40: I think you're misinterpreting the value of a TD. For a WR/RB/QB, it's worth about 10 yards, because all three work together to eventually score the TD. But with a returner, the instant six points is worth more than simply giving your offense another 10 yards.
Now, you're probably right that TD rate is less important than average return yards, but diving yard by (returns + fair catches) seems to punish the returner for the fair catch, which is more indicative of a good punter.

42
by oldnumberseven (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 12:58am

Eric Metcalf with 12 (10 punts, two kickoffs)

I remember the game where two of those TD's came from. I would have to say Metcalf was one of the best, because I feared seeing him on a return so much. Metcalf up the middle on third and long, I didn't fear at all. But Metcalf standing back there to field a punt or kick, I hated to see.

43
by Tom (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 3:03am

Re 38:

Except the Bear's offense will never be able to move the 30 yards needed to make it to field goal range.

44
by JeffW (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 4:41am

"40: I think you’re misinterpreting the value of a TD. For a WR/RB/QB, it’s worth about 10 yards, because all three work together to eventually score the TD. But with a returner, the instant six points is worth more than simply giving your offense another 10 yards."

There is no difference vs. an offensive player. The yards are what is important. The last yard (1-yard line to end zone) is worth 10 yards of field position.

45
by senser81 (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 8:27am

A few thoughts:

Some of the old-timer guys did return missed FGs for TDs. I know Timmy Brown of the Eagles did this a couple times.

There was a period of time from about 1960-1973 when returning punts was nearly impossible. Punters like Horace Gillom had by then figured out that punts with hang time instead of distance were harder to return, and there weren't any restrictions on the number of players you could immediately send downfield to cover the punt.

Subjectively speaking, Desmond Howard in 1996 was the best return man I've seen, but Hester over the last two years has been incredible. Hester is the best kick returner I've seen, and I think Howard was better at returning punts. Dante Hall also had a period of time where everything he touched seemingly turned into a TD.

46
by Eddo (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 10:11am

44: Ugh...last time I post so super-tired.
I guess my point was that offensive players and kick returners have different jobs.
An offensive player's job is to move his team down the field, getting first downs and the like (which is what DVOA and DPAR measure). Therefore, the touchdown at the end, while worth more than any other catch/run/pass, is simply a function of the rest of the drive.
A kick returner's job is to set up the offense in the best position to score. What better way is there to do so than to actually score?
Granted, a kick return to the one yard line is just about as good as a touchdown, but as someone pointed out before, how often do kick returners get inside the opponent's ten yard line without scoring? Yet this happens with offensive players all the time.

47
by Fnor (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 10:56am

Still fumbles too much. That's the difference, to me. The other guys were generally sure-handed.

48
by JMM (not verified) :: Fri, 10/05/2007 - 7:23pm

I have a different take on the data. I dropped the data into excel, plotted a scattergram of total attemps and total td's and inserted a best fit line. This is in some way a measure of what is expected from the best returners. (in a very semi-analytical sort of way.)

Looking at the data, showed Glyn MIlburn didn't really belong. I dropped him.

I then looked at how far above the line (in some way a measure of better than expected) the returners were. Eyeballing it, the top guys were:
#1 Ollie Matson
#2 Gale Sayers
#3 Dante Hall
#4 Jack Christiansen
#5 Bobby Mitchell
#6 Mel Gray
#7 Devin Hester
#8 Travis Williams
#9 Deion Sanders

Your results may vary.

49
by hector (not verified) :: Sun, 10/07/2007 - 4:21am

I guess Tampa Bay has the worst kickoff blocking of all time, eh?

50
by Alec (not verified) :: Sun, 10/07/2007 - 9:55pm

I noticed they used this on the front page of the Sunday Tribune Sports. Apparently people picked up on something. Not sure if it would qualify as "On the Web" as well

51
by Yaguar (not verified) :: Sun, 10/07/2007 - 11:04pm

Here's the reason why return yards aren't as valuable as offensive yards:

Offensive yardage gets you closer to a first down, in addition to moving you down the field.

All returns end in first downs. Therefore, good returns move you down the field more, but they don't help you get first downs any more than a shorter return would.

A 9 yard gain on first down is more valuable than adding 9 yards to the end of a return.

52
by Nick Scarpinato (not verified) :: Tue, 10/09/2007 - 3:22pm

I don't care what anybody says, stats, any of that. What I care about is the fact that teams are absolutely refusing to kick to Hester now. Watching the Chicago-Green Bay game Sunday night, the Bears had excellent field position all game because they refused to put the ball anywhere near Hester on all but two kicks. That says a lot when a team is willing to give up field position just so the return man doesn't get a chance to run it back.

And anybody who says that Hester is a product of his blockers has never watched the punt return against the Vikings last season where he broke three tackles before he'd even gained 5 yards, then broke a 4th as he crossed the goal line. The thing that makes Hester so scary is that he's so fast and so quick with his moves that by the time you know where he's going, he's already passed you by. On the return against the Chiefs, he shot down the sideline so fast that nobody had a chance to even change their angle of pursuit until he was already 5 yards past them. He's part Barry Sanders, part Flash Gordon: juke, juke, where he hell'd he go?

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by Nick Scarpinato (not verified) :: Tue, 10/09/2007 - 3:30pm

Not to mention the fact that on half of his returns, he gets the defenders so tied up in knots that they actually take eachother out, effectively using the other team's men as blockers. The game against Minnesota last year was the best example: When Hester started off he juked the defender on his left, who then fell and knocked down the defender on his right, which allowed him to get free.

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by mike (not verified) :: Sun, 10/14/2007 - 5:52pm

Hester is really good. 4 more till the record. Call me cheap, but I count 108 yard field goal returns.