The NFL is made up of 32 teams that compete in a highly competitive league, with players at the top of their game showcasing their skills and athleticism on the field. One position on the football field that often goes overlooked but is essential to a team's success is the returner.

There are two types of returners but this can often be the same person - punt returners and kick returners. They are mostly wide-receivers and/or cornerbacks and they specialize in returning punts and kickoffs.

Punting is when a team kicks the ball to the opposing team after failing to score, while kicking off is done at the beginning of each half and after every score.

What are their responsibilities?

In American football, a returner is a player on special teams who is responsible for kickoff returning and punt returning as far as they can to gain good field position. The responsibilities of a returner include:

  • Catching the ball: The returner's primary responsibility is to catch a punt or kick-off cleanly. If the returner fails to catch the ball, it can result in a turnover or a touchback.

  • Judging the trajectory of the ball: The returner must quickly judge the direction and speed of the ball in order to position themselves to make the catch.

  • Making the first defender miss: Once the returner has caught the ball, they must quickly make the first defender miss in order to gain as many yards as possible.

  • Reading the blocks: The returner must be able to read the blocks set up by their teammates in order to find a seam in the coverage.

  • Protecting the ball: The returner must protect the ball at all times, as fumbles can quickly turn the tide of a game.

  • Knowing when to take a touchback: If the returner judges that they cannot gain any yardage or the ball is too deep in the end zone, they can take a touchback by kneeling in the end zone or catching the ball and taking a knee.

What makes a great returner?

A great returner in American football must possess several key traits and skills, including:

  • Speed: A great returner must have the ability to accelerate quickly and maintain high speed throughout the return.

  • Agility: The ability to quickly change direction and avoid defenders is critical for a returner.

  • Vision: A great returner must be able to read and anticipate the movements of the coverage team and find the best path to take.

  • Decision-making: A great returner must be able to make quick decisions under pressure, such as whether to return a punt or kickoff and when to call for a fair catch.

  • Fearlessness: A great returner must be willing to take on contact and maintain possession of the ball in the face of aggressive defenders.

  • Ball handling: A great returner must have excellent ball handling skills to ensure that they catch and secure the ball cleanly.

  • Awareness: A great returner must be aware of the field position, time on the clock, and other factors that may impact their decision-making during a return.

Famous NFL returners

  • Devin Hester - Known as one of the greatest return specialists in NFL history, Devin Hester holds the NFL record for most career punt return touchdowns (14) and total return touchdowns (20).

  • Gale Sayers - Nicknamed the "Kansas Comet," Gale Sayers was a five-time Pro Bowler and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1977.

  • Desmond Howard - Desmond Howard won the Super Bowl XXXI MVP award after returning a kickoff for a touchdown in the game.

  • Dante Hall - Dante Hall, also known as the "Human Joystick," holds the record for most return touchdowns in a single season (6).

  • Devin Funchess - While not as famous as some of the other players on this list, Devin Funchess holds the Panthers' franchise record for most career punt return yards (915).