The Top 10 Kick, Punt Returns at the NFL's Midseason Mark

Gary DavenportNFL AnalystOctober 24, 2012

The Top 10 Kick, Punt Returns at the NFL's Midseason Mark

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    It's one of the most exciting plays in all of football.

    There aren't many things that beat jumping out of your seat and hollering at the TV as a player streaks down the sideline or weaves his way through traffic, taking a kickoff or punt all the way the back for a score and drastically changing the momentum of a game.

    Sure, the NFL may have moved kickoffs up to the 35 to create more touchbacks (the spoilsports), but that hasn't stopped the league's speedsters from returning six kickoffs and seven punts for scores so far this year, including two in Week 7 alone.

    However, not all those plays can make the cut and the fairest way to rank them was by distance.

    With that said, there were two notable exceptions that deserved inclusion.  So including those exceptions to the rule, here are the top 10 returns to this point in 2012.

10. Jeremy Kerley, New York Jets (Punt, 68 Yards, Week 1)

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    This return is the 2nd shortest on the list and made the cut not in and of itself, but because of something else the New York Jets wide receiver Jeremy Kerley accomplished in the Week 1 matchup with the Buffalo Bills.

    The second-year pro didn't waste any time making a good impression in what has become something of a breakout sophomore season.

    He became the first player in Jets history to score a touchdown on a reception and punt return in the same game.

9. Adam Jones, Cincinnati Bengals (Punt, 81 Yards, Week 2)

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    It's been a rocky NFL career for Adam "Pacman" Jones, but one thing that can't be denied is that Jones has always been a very dangerous punt returner.

    Jones gave Bengals fans something to cheer about in their home opener against the Cleveland Browns in Week 2, bringing back a punt 81 yards for his fifth career score on a punt return in a Cincinnati victory.

8. Leodis McKelvin, Buffalo Bills (Punt, 88 Yards, Week 2)

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    There must have been something in the water in Week 2, because it was a very good afternoon for so-so cornerbacks to take punts to the house.

    Leodis McKelvin of the Buffalo Bills did Jones one better in the Bills' Week 2 throttling of the Kansas City Chiefs. 

    He returned a third quarter punt 88 yards to put Buffalo up 35-3 and stick a fork in the Chiefs.

7. Brad Smith, Buffalo Bills (Kickoff, 89 Yards, Week 7)

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    Here are those Buffalo Bills again.

    Wide receiver Brad Smith is the NFL's equivalent of a jack-of-all-trades, whether it be catching passes, serving as a wildcat quarterback or returning kicks.

    It's that last category where Smith truly excels.

    His 89-yard scamper for a score last week against the Tennessee Titans was the fourth return for a touchdown in Smith's seven-year career.

6. Joe McKnight (Kickoff, 100 Yards, Week 5)

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    The Jets Week 5 loss to the Houston Texans wasn't really as close as the 23-17 score indicates, but that's not to say that there weren't any bright spots for Gang Green on that Monday night in New Jersey.

    Running back Joe McKnight provided one of those bright spots with his 100-yard kickoff return in the third quarter of a 20-7 game.

    This provided the spark that got the Jets back into the contest before they eventually fell short.

5. Devin McCourty, New England Patriots (Kickoff, 104 Yards, Week 7)

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    We've passed the 100-yard threshold.

    This is when special teams coaches start watching returns through their hands, while trying to figure out whether to congratulate returners or strangle them.

    For New England Patriots cornerback Devin McCourty, it was the former.

    The third-year pro answered a score by the New York Jets with a 104-yard touchdown of his own in the Patriots overtime win in Week 7.

4. Darius Reynaud, Tennessee Titans (Kickoff, 105 Yards, Week 3)

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    You're going to notice a trend in the last four slides of this little endeavor.

    So far in 2012, the Detroit Lions special teams haven't been so special.

    Not once, but twice this season the Lions have allowed both a kickoff and punt to be returned for touchdowns.

    This began in Week 3 when Tennessee Titans wide receiver Darius Reynaud followed up a punt return with a 105-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter of a wild overtime win by the Titans.

    We'll get to that punt return in a bit.

3. Percy Harvin, Minnesota Vikings (Kickoff, 105 Yards, Week 4)

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    OK, so the Lions were dusted for not one, but two touchdown returns in Week 3.

    This, no doubt, led to a week of grueling special teams practices in an effort to whip the unit into shape in preparation of their Week 4 matchup with the Vikings in Minnesota.

    It then led to wide receiver Percy Harvin returning the opening kickoff 105 yards for a touchdown, followed by Marcus Sherels returning a punt 77 yards for a score later in the game.

    Those were the Vikings only two touchdowns in a 20-13 win.

    Um, oops.

2. Jacoby Jones, Baltimore Ravens (Kickoff, 108 Yards, Week 6)

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    Last year in the playoffs, a costly turnover by wide receiver Jacoby Jones contributed to the Houston Texans' loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

    That gaffe may have been partly to blame for Jones' departure from Houston, but the Ravens aren't complaining, as the sixth-year speedster now plies his trade in Baltimore.

    That speed was on display in a Week 6 win over the Dallas Cowboys when Jones tied an NFL record with a 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

1. Tommie Campbell, Tennessee Titans (Punt, 65 Yards, Week 3)

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    This return is the shortest on this list but also the most impressive, due in large part to the memories it brought back.

    And the flashbacks it gave to fans of the Buffalo Bills.

    In a play eerily reminiscent of the "Music City Miracle" from the 2000 playoffs, the aforementioned Darius Reynaud fielded a punt and tossed a lateral pass to Tommie Campbell, who raced 65 yards for a touchdown against the Detroit Lions.

    It may not have the significance of that play 12 years ago, but it's still good enough to top off this list.