Kickoff returner

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Chicago Bears' kickoff returner Devin Hester

In American and Canadian football, a kick returner (KR) is the player on special teams who is primarily responsible for catching the opposing team's kickoff and attempting to run it towards the end zone to score a touchdown. If the ball is kicked into his own end zone, the kick returner must assess the situation on the field while the ball is in the air and determine if it would be beneficial to his team for a return. If he decides that it is not, he can make a touch back by kneeling down in the end zone after catching the ball, ending the play and starting the next play at the 20-yard line to start the drive.

Kick returner position is often played by a small, faster player and is often played by a Cornerback, Running back or Wide receiver. Backup players frequently assume this role so starting players on the offense take less hits as the kick returner position, and can play their regular positions. A kick returner may also play the punt returner position, in which the player receives the opposing team's kick from 4th down. Individual players who frequently play the position and are capable of making big plays on returns receive the title Return specialist.

In 2012, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell proposed the idea of removing the kickoff play, and quoted that the "kickoff return is too dangerous for the game." The idea was met with criticism and the idea was eventually dropped.[1]

On October 27, 2013, wide receiver Cordarrelle Patterson of the Minnesota Vikings returned the kickoff 109 yards and scored a touchdown, the longest run possible in NFL league standards.

In 2014, Devin Hester broke Deion Sanders's record for most kickoff return touchdowns, with 20 total. He currently remains holding the record.

Notable kick returners[edit]

Gale Sayers was an All-Pro running back who also returned punts and kicked for the Chicago Bears. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1977. He currently holds the record for the highest kickoff return average at 30.56 yards per attempt. He is often called the greatest kick returner in NFL history.[2]

Deion Sanders played cornerback for multiple NFL teams and also played kick returner and a punt returner on special teams. Sanders was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2011. Sanders totaled 3,523 kick return yards in his career, including 3 touchdowns. Sanders held the record for most special teams touchdowns, 19 in total, until Devin Hester broke the record in the 2014 season.


  1. ^ Rosenthal, Greg. "Roger Goodell mulls idea of eliminating NFL kickoffs". Retrieved March 17, 2013. 
  2. ^ "The Best Kick Returners in NFL History". Retrieved January 12, 2016. 
Positions in American football and Canadian football
Offense Defense Special teams
Linemen Guard, Tackle, Center Linemen Tackle, End Kicking players Placekicker, Punter, Kickoff specialist
Quarterback Linebackers Snapping Long snapper, Holder
Backs Halfback (Tailback), Fullback, H-back Backs Cornerback, Safety, Halfback Returning Punt returner, Kick returner, Jammer
Receivers Wide receiver, Tight end, Slotback Nickelback, Dimeback Tackling Gunner, Upback
Formations (List)NomenclatureStrategy