Field position is an extremely important aspect of football. Avoiding critical mistakes in the kicking game — and occasionally flipping the field with a big return — can make a huge difference during the course of a season. Here we give the top nine kick returners through the first nine weeks of the season, per Pro Football Focus grades.
Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins (+2.0 on KOR, +6.0 on PR)
Landry has complemented his great year offensively (84.0 overall grade) with an impressive showing as a returner, posting punt returns of 14, 17, 18, 19, 19 and 28 yards, as well as a 69-yard score on opening day versus Washington. He has added a 50-yard kickoff return as well.
Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns (0.0 on KOR, +5.0 on PR)
After also returning kickoffs for the previous three seasons, Benjamin has exclusively returned punts in 2015, and has performed very well. He has four returns of more than 20 yards, including a 78-yard touchdown versus the Titans in Week 2. His 13.0 yards per return is third among qualifying players, and Benjamin is the highest amongst those with 14 or more punt returns.
Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals (+2.0 on KOR, +4.5 on PR)
Despite not having a punt return of more than 35 yards, and only committing one fair catch, Jones is second among punt returners with a 14.0 yard average per return. He has also returned kickoffs with a respectable average of 25.8 yards per return on eight attempts, with a long of 49 against the Bills.
Eric Weems, Atlanta Falcons (+2.0 on KOR, +4.0 on PR)
While he has yet to return a kick for a score, Weems has been steady as both a punt and kickoff returner. He is fourth among qualified punt returners with a 12.7 average per return, with a return of more than 20 yards in each of the past two weeks. Weems has been solid on kickoffs as 10 of his 13 kickoff returns have been more than 20 yards, with a long of 50 this past week versus the 49ers.
Dwayne Harris, New York Giants (+3.5 on KOR, +1.5 on PR)
In his first season as a Giant, Harris is leading qualified kickoff returners with a 33.0 yard average per return, with returns of 41 and 100 yards respectively, including the game-winning return against the Cowboys earlier this year. Harris has been solid on punts as well, throwing in a 29-yard return against Atlanta this season.
Marcus Sherels, Minnesota Vikings (0.0 on KOR, +4.5 on PR)
One of two defensive players on this list, Sherels has the third-best punt return average (11.2 per return) amongst returners with more than 20 returns. His 65-yard touchdown versus the Bears was the third of his career, and his elusive 26-yard return in overtime this past week helped the Vikings secure their fourth straight victory.
Tavon Austin, St. Louis Rams (0.0 on KOR, +4.5 on PR)
Austin is having his best overall season as a pro thus far (71.8 Player Grade at WR), and it opened with a 75-yard punt return in Week 1 against the Seahawks. He added a 20-yard punt return in Week 3 against the Steelers, and Austin has been relatively sure-handed (one fumble) compared to the previous two seasons (eight fumbles).
Darren Sproles, Philadelphia Eagles (0.0 on KOR, +4.0 on PR)
Sproles is exclusively returning punts these days, but is leading all qualified returners with a 15.1 average, including a momentum-altering, tackle-breaking 89-yard return against the Jets in Week 3. Sproles boasts impressive returns of 13, 15, 15, and 45 yards this season.
Tyler Lockett, Seattle Seahawks (0.0 on KOR, +4.0 on PR)
Although he has struggled a bit of late, the rookie Lockett is the only returner in the league with two touchdowns this season (one punt and one kickoff). He opened the season against the Rams with a 57-yard punt return for a touchdown. Against the Bears in Week 3, Lockett perfectly executed a decoy play that resulted in a 64-yard punt return by teammate Richard Sherman and returned the opening kickoff of the second half 105 yards for a touchdown.