Power Ranking the NFL's Best Kick Return Performances in the Last 20 Years

Lou Rom@louromliveContributor IDecember 11, 2012

Power Ranking the NFL's Best Kick Return Performances in the Last 20 Years

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    Mere days after commissioner Roger Goodell said he was open to the idea of eliminating kickoffs and punts from the NFL, David Wilson of the New York Giants reminded us just how ridiculous such a thought is.

    Wilson had 327 all-purpose yards against the New Orleans Saints in the New York Giants' 52-27 win, including a 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, punctuating a Giants win with excitement.

    Wilson reminded old school NFL fans of the wonder of Bille "White Shoes" Johnson.

    So, not one to shy away from an opportunity to make a point to the commish, I have compiled a short (though surely incomplete) list of some of the best kick return games of the last 20 years.

Tyrone Hughes Dismantles the St. Louis Rams in 1994

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    Tyrone Hughes, a defensive back born and raised in New Orleans, made his NFL debut for his hometown Saints in 1993.

    The Saints selected Hughes, a Nebraska product, in the fifth round with the 137th overall pick.

    Hughes played in all 16 games of his rookie year, averaging a league-best 13.6 yards per return, and made the Pro Bowl—a rare feat for rookies, let alone those relegated to special teams play.

    But as good as Hughes was in 1993, his best game as a pro came in 1994 against the then-Los Angeles Rams. 

    Hughes gained 337 yards and two touchdowns on kickoffs and punts against the Rams in Week 8, helping lead the Saints to a 37-34 victory. That record still stands today. 

Josh Cribbs Smokes the Kansas City Chiefs in 2009

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    In Week 1 of the NFL season in 2009, Josh Cribbs secured his long coveted spot in the starting lineup for the Cleveland Browns, nailing down the team's No. 2 wide receiver slot.

    But it was Cribbs' work on kickoffs and punts that continued to wow in 2009, much as it did in previous years.

    In Week 15, in an otherwise unwatchable matchup—both teams came into the game at 3-1—Cribbs lit up the Kansas City Chiefs for 310 return yards, including two touchdowns on kickoffs—one for 100 yards and a second for 103.

    In all, Cribbs averaged 31 yards per return in the game.

    Cribbs finished the year with 1,542 return yards and a spot in the Pro Bowl. He is considered by many the best return man in the league today.

    Hash Marks — Cribbs' 31-yards-per-return average is impressive, but not even half that of the NFL record, set by Wallace Triplet in 1950, he averaged 73 yards on three returns and still holds the Detroit Lions record for most return yards in a game with 294.


Devin Hester's 2006 Demolition of the St. Louis Rams

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    In 2006, his rookie season, a nondescript player who could never find a position to play in college set the NFL on fire when Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith put him on the field to return kicks.

    And, as they say, the rest is history. 

    Devin Hester set an NFL record that year returning six kicks (punts and kickoffs) for a touchdown.

    His biggest game came in Week 14 against the St. Louis Rams when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns, one for 96 yards and a second for 97. 

    Hester became the sixth player in NFL history to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same game, the last was Chad Morton of the New York Jets in 2002.

David Wilson Breaks out and Breaks the Saints' Playoff Hopes in 2012

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    Rookie running back David Wilson, the New York Giants first-round pick, electrified those in attendance at Metlife Stadium with his breakout performance Sunday.

    Wilson returned four kickoffs for 227 yards in the Giants' 52-27 victory over the New Orleans Saints, including a 97-yard touchdown return. 

    But it was Wilson's 52-yard touchdown run with 5:10 remaining that locked up the victory for New York.

    What made the performance even more impressive was that Wilson, despite his breakaway speed and agility, had been in head coach Tom Coughlin's doghouse most of the season, before circumstances dictated that Wilson get plenty of touches Sunday. 

Andre Davis Leads the Texans to First 8-8 Record with Two Touchdowns Returns

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    Andre Davis wondered when he would get his chance in Houston.

    After showing promise returning kicks in Cleveland for three years (and Buffalo and New England for a year a piece) Davis had yet to score his first touchdown as a Texan when October rolled around.

    He struggled with inconsistency and slim opportunities for much of the year.

    But on the last Sunday of the regular season, with the Texans vying for their first .500 season in franchise history, Davis set the NFL on its head, rushing for back-to-back touchdowns on consecutive kickoffs against the playoff-bound Jacksonville Jaguars.

    His first return for 97 yards, gave the Texans a lead going into the half, 21-14.

    But Davis was not done.

    He opened the second half with a 100-yard return, pushing Houston's lead to 14 points. 

    Given a 14-point lead to start the second half, Houston's emerging defense did just enough, holding off the Jaguars, 42-28 and Davis was no doubt the star of the day.