Football Return Specialist

Football Returners

A returner is a player on special teams who performs returns. The types of return specialists are punt returner and kickoff returner.

Punt Returner

The punt returner is responsible for catching the punt and ensuring that their team has maintained a good field position. This is the player who determines if their team should try for a run, and this decision is made in an instant while the ball is still in the air. The punt returner’s eyes must dart around the field while they successfully get under the ball to catch it.

Kickoff Returner

The kickoff returner is the player responsible for successfully catching the opposing team’s kickoff. After they catch it, they must run to the opposite end of the field in an attempt to score a touchdown. If the returner is able to do this, it is considered a huge feat since there is an entire football field of defenders in their way. Any yards that the returner can gain is considered a gain for the team and sets them up for a few successful downs.

Roles and Responsibilities

On a return, the returner's responsibilities are to get a good field position for their team or get a touchdown return. They track a kick throughout its entire path, starting with the ball on the tee. A returner must keep their eye on the ball during flight and make a complete catch. Then they must avoid defenders on their run, using their blockers as cover.


These are the skills needed to be a great return specialist:

  • Speed
  • Agility
  • Precise vision
  • Hand dexterity
  • Ball catching
  • Judgment and strategy
  • Reading blocks
  • Explosiveness


A return is when a returner catches the ball from a kickoff or punt and runs with it on the field toward the opposing team's end zone. The return determines the initial scrimmage line for the offensive drive.

Touchdown Returns

On a touchdown return, the returner scores a touchdown when making the return on a kickoff or punt. Touchdown returns are very rare and hard to do.

Field Position

Football Field Position

Field position in football describes the location of the ball in relation to the end zones. On a return, a returner should bring the ball into the red zone if they can.

Fair Catches

Football Fair Catch

A fair catch is a signal the returner can make while the ball is in flight on a return to ask for an unhindered attempt at catching the ball. This is a very safe option because the defenders cannot make contact with the returner, which prevents injury. It also minimizes the chances of fumbles occurring. However, the ball is declared dead at the spot of the fair catch.


Football Touchback

A touchback is a signal the returner can make in the end zone by dropping down on one knee when catching the kickoff or punt. Touchbacks place the scrimmage line on the 20-yard line. This ends the play and is very common to see in games.

Notable NFL Returners

  • Tyreek Hill
  • Jalen Richards
  • Jakeem Grant
  • Brandon Tate
  • Quan Bray
  • Joshua Cribbs
  • Rick Upchurch
  • Brian Mitchell
  • Devin Hester
  • Gale Sayers
  • Desmond Howard
  • Abe Woodson
  • Mel Gray
  • Ollie Matson
  • Deion Sanders
  • Dante Hall


What makes a good kick returner?

A good kick returner in football always makes sure to watch the kicker before and during the kick, as doing so will help them get a better read on where the ball will come down from the kick. Returners must be in a relaxed, mobile stance that allows them to move sideways quickly in order to get under the ball in whichever direction it goes. Finally, when catching the ball, a good returner will create a secure pocket with their arms and hands close to the chest, giving the ball no chance to fall through their hands, and will watch the ball until it is secure before beginning their return.