Gosselin: NFL door open for kick returners
I've highlighted some of the amazing punt returners we can find in this year's draft by not using a first round pick on Ted Ginn Jr. Thank you, Rick Gosselin for the numbers.Quality late rounders: Steve Breaston, Ryne Robinson,Yamon Figurs, Jacoby Jones, Selvin Young
NFL door open for kick returners
Hester's impact as rookie benefits players in 2007 draft
02:36 PM CDT on Tuesday, April 10, 2007
By RICK GOSSELIN / The Dallas Morning News
The Chicago Bears won their NFC championship in the second round of the 2006 NFL draft.
That's where Chicago, with the 57th overall pick, selected a player without a true position. The Bears weren't sure if Devin Hester would be a cornerback or a wide receiver in the NFL, but they were certain he could return kicks.
His ability on special teams, generally a forgotten phase of football on draft day, powered the Bears to an NFC-best 13-3 record. Hester scored an NFL-record six touchdowns on a variety of kick returns.
Hester returned three punts for touchdowns, including an 83-yarder in the closing minutes of a 24-23 victory at Arizona. He also returned two kickoffs for touchdowns and ran back an errant New York Giants field goal try an NFL-record-tying 108 yards for a sixth score.
"He showed special teams to be very important to football," said Michigan wide receiver Steve Breaston. "You can make big plays there. You can't take special teams lightly. They can help you win ball games."
Breaston figures to be one of the players who benefits from Hester's showing in 2006.
The NFL is a copycat league, so teams will spend more time studying the elite kick returners in the 2007 draft in an attempt to find difference-makers of their own.
Breaston will be among the most scrutinized. So will Ted Ginn Jr. of Ohio State, Aaron Ross of Texas, Yamon Figurs of Kansas State and Jacoby Jones of Lane. All could go higher on draft day because of the Hester factor.
"I'm a big fan of Hester," Ginn said. "I watched him through college. He helps me out a lot. If he can do it, I believe I can. I'm not trying to be cocky, but we do have the same ability and the same type speed. If he can go out and do it, I can do it, too."
Hester added a seventh touchdown in the Super Bowl when he ran back the opening kickoff 92 yards against the Indianapolis Colts. Ginn had a similar moment in college football's national championship game when he ran back the opening kickoff 93 yards for a touchdown against Florida.
Like Hester, Ginn can return punts and kickoffs. He led the NCAA in punt returns (25.6 yards) as a freshman and kickoff returns (29.6 yards) as a sophomore. Ginn set a Big Ten record with six career punt returns for touchdowns and also scored twice on kickoffs.
Breaston set Big Ten records for career punt returns (127) and yardage (1,599). He scored four times on punts and a fifth time on a kickoff. Miami of Ohio's Ryne Robinson returned seven career punts for touchdowns, one short of the NCAA record. He averaged 13.8 yards on 121 career returns.
Figurs got everyone's attention at the NFL scouting combine with his 4.26-second speed in the 40. He jumped out at NFL talent evaluators on his game tape, as well, with his career averages of 23.7 yards on kickoffs and 11.5 yards on punts. He was the All-Big 12 kick return specialist in 2006.
Jacoby Jones returned four career kickoffs for touchdowns at the NCAA Division II level and scored a fifth touchdown on a punt. Texas' Ross and Selvin Young also should benefit this month from the Hester factor."Hester brought back the importance of the kick," Young said. "A lot of teams settle for what they can get on a return. Now guys are looking to take it to the house. I have a few of those on my record – a couple of punts and kicks in the same game, in fact. I'd like to do some of that at the next level."
Young returned a kickoff 97 yards and a punt 39 yards for touchdowns against New Mexico in 2003. He also ran a punt back for a touchdown against Tulane in 2002. Ross scored three times on punts and averaged 11.3 yards on 76 career returns.
"Those [returns] are something that can get the crowd, the fans and everyone on their feet," Ross said.
They can also help win championships.