Field Flippers: the NFL’s Best All-Time Punt Returners

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A punt returned for a touchdown is the football equivalent of a dagger in the heart. Not only has your team’s momentum stalled, forcing them to kick the ball away, but in the blink of an eye, the opposition has also put six on the board.
Of course, a great return man can’t necessarily always find the end zone; in fact it’s one of the most difficult tasks in the game. What makes a truly great punt returner is the ability to squeeze every last bit of yardage out of the play. It’s a skill that requires just as much sound decision-making as it does speed and agility, and it’s a skill that very few have.

5 Davin Meggett

7 Touchdowns, 3,708 Yards

While Davin Meggett’s post-football life has certainly been less than savory, his time on the field earned him a place on this list. He may not have found the end zone as often as some of the other guys mentioned, but Meggett sure did know how to rack up the yards, a skill which earned him two Pro Bowl appearances. The former fifth-round draft pick finished his ten-year career with a punt return average of 10.6 yards, and still holds second place on the list for most yards all-time among punt-return men.

4 Rick Upchurch

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8 Touchdowns, 3,008 Yards

Despite playing only nine seasons in the NFL, Rick Upchurch made four Pro Bowls and was a three-time All-Pro, and with good reason. The former fourth-round draft pick out of Minnesota spent his entire career in Denver, where he led the league in yards per punt return and punt-return touchdowns three times each. Upchurch still holds the single-season record for punt-return touchdowns with four (tied with three other players), and sits in ninth place on the list for career punt return yards.

3 Eric Metcalf

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10 Touchdowns, 3,453 Yards

The thirteenth overall pick out of Texas in 1989, Eric Metcalf spent his first six seasons in Cleveland, then bounced around to Atlanta, San Diego, Arizona, Carolina, Washington, and Green Bay. While he didn’t stay in one place very long, each team along the way was more than glad to have him. Metcalf led the league in punt-return touchdowns four times, averaged more than 10 yards per return four times, and made three year-end trips to the Pro Bowl over the course of his 13-year NFL career.

2 Brian Mitchell

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9 Touchdowns, 4,999 Yards

While also a great kick returner, Brian Mitchell really made his mark on the punt-return team. Over his 14-year career with Washington, Philly, and New York (Giants), Mitchell led the league in punt-return touchdowns twice and yards per return once, while scoring off an opposing team’s punt in seven different seasons. Mitchell sits comfortably atop the NFL’s all-time list for career punt return yards, with a 1,201-yard cushion between him and his nearest competition. He’s third all-time in punt-return touchdowns, with nine.

1 Devin Hester

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12 Touchdowns, 2,985 Yards

Though he’s only been in the league seven years, Devin Hester has proven that his knack for finding the end zone is unlike any other punt returner in NFL history. Hester has been an invaluable weapon for the Chicago Bears, who took him in the second round in 2006 and have been repaid with multiple punt-return touchdowns in four different seasons. Hester has been named a Pro Bowler and First-Team All-Pro three times each, led the league in yards per punt return twice, and is one of only four players in NFL history to return four punts for touchdowns in a single season.

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