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Devin Hester

Posted by Doug on October 16, 2007

Let me preface this by saying that there is more to being a returner than just scoring touchdowns, so I don't claim that the calculations I'll do below are a rating of the all-time great kick returners. It's just the all-time great touchdown-scoring kick returners. Obviously there is a lot of overlap between the two, but they're not synonymous.

Very simple scheme. Take each player's touchdowns scored on kick returns and subtract the number of touchdowns an average returner would have been expected to score on the same number of returns. That gives us his Kick Return Touchdowns Over Average. Do the same thing for punt returns to get his Punt Return TDs Over Average. Add them together to get Total Return TDs Over Average, by which we'll sort the list.

Lots of fine print follows the table:

+---------------------+------+------+-----------+------+------+-----------+------------+
| name                | kr   | krtd | krtdAdded | pr   | prtd | prtdAdded | TotTDAdded |
+---------------------+------+------+-----------+------+------+-----------+------------+
| Devin Hester*       | 46   | 4    | 3.7332    | 73   | 5    | 4.4160    | 8.1492     |
| Ollie Matson        | 143  | 6    | 5.1706    | 65   | 3    | 2.4800    | 7.6506     |
| Gale Sayers         | 91   | 6    | 5.4722    | 27   | 2    | 1.5280    | 7.0002     |
| Jack Christiansen   | 59   | 0    | -0.3422   | 85   | 8    | 7.3200    | 6.9778     |
| Dante Hall          | 360  | 6    | 3.9120    | 188  | 5    | 2.9760    | 6.8880     |
| Eric Metcalf        | 280  | 2    | 0.3760    | 351  | 10   | 6.4800    | 6.8560     |
| Bobby Mitchell      | 102  | 5    | 4.4084    | 69   | 3    | 2.4240    | 6.8324     |
| Travis Williams     | 102  | 6    | 5.4084    | 13   | 1    | 0.8560    | 6.2644     |
| Deion Sanders       | 155  | 3    | 2.1010    | 212  | 6    | 3.7520    | 5.8530     |
| Rick Upchurch       | 95   | 0    | -0.5510   | 248  | 8    | 5.7760    | 5.2250     |
| Billy Johnson       | 123  | 2    | 1.2866    | 282  | 6    | 3.3840    | 4.6706     |
| Abe Woodson         | 193  | 5    | 3.8806    | 123  | 2    | 0.7520    | 4.6326     |
| Tamarick Vanover    | 226  | 4    | 2.6892    | 197  | 4    | 1.9200    | 4.6092     |
| Timmy Brown         | 184  | 5    | 3.9328    | 71   | 1    | 0.2240    | 4.1568     |
| Brian Mitchell      | 607  | 4    | 0.4794    | 463  | 9    | 3.4480    | 3.9274     |
| Steve Smith         | 98   | 2    | 1.4316    | 169  | 4    | 2.2720    | 3.7036     |
| Mel J. Gray         | 421  | 6    | 3.5582    | 252  | 3    | 0.0160    | 3.5742     |
| Eddie Drummond      | 213  | 2    | 0.7646    | 108  | 4    | 2.7840    | 3.5486     |
| Joey Galloway       | 4    | 0    | -0.0232   | 138  | 5    | 3.5200    | 3.4968     |
| Antwaan Randle El   | 78   | 1    | 0.5476    | 207  | 5    | 2.8720    | 3.4196     |
| Jon Vaughn          | 103  | 4    | 3.4026    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 3.4026     |
| Darrick Vaughn      | 103  | 4    | 3.4026    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 3.4026     |
| Andre Coleman       | 193  | 4    | 2.8806    | 43   | 1    | 0.5040    | 3.3846     |
| Terry Kirby         | 101  | 3    | 2.4142    | 1    | 1    | 0.9600    | 3.3742     |
| Lemar Parrish       | 61   | 1    | 0.6462    | 131  | 4    | 2.7040    | 3.3502     |
| Freddie Solomon     | 32   | 1    | 0.8144    | 177  | 4    | 2.3920    | 3.2064     |
| Tony Horne          | 143  | 4    | 3.1706    | 7    | 0    | -0.0560   | 3.1146     |
| Terrence McGee      | 158  | 4    | 3.0836    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 3.0836     |
| Pacman Jones        | 63   | 0    | -0.3654   | 63   | 4    | 3.4080    | 3.0426     |
| Desmond Howard      | 359  | 0    | -2.0822   | 244  | 8    | 5.1040    | 3.0218     |
| Emlen Tunnell       | 43   | 1    | 0.7506    | 220  | 4    | 2.2400    | 2.9906     |
| Cecil Turner        | 108  | 4    | 3.3736    | 27   | 0    | -0.4080   | 2.9656     |
| Ron J. Brown        | 199  | 4    | 2.8458    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 2.8458     |
| Dave Meggett        | 252  | 1    | -0.4616   | 349  | 7    | 3.2960    | 2.8344     |
| Dick Christy        | 117  | 0    | -0.6786   | 67   | 4    | 3.4640    | 2.7854     |
| Michael Bates       | 373  | 5    | 2.8366    | 10   | 0    | -0.1200   | 2.7166     |
| Raymond Clayborn    | 57   | 3    | 2.6694    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 2.6694     |
| LeRoy Irvin         | 4    | 0    | -0.0232   | 147  | 4    | 2.6640    | 2.6408     |
| Goldie Sellers      | 27   | 2    | 1.8434    | 19   | 1    | 0.7840    | 2.6274     |
| Bert Zagers         | 26   | 0    | -0.1508   | 28   | 3    | 2.7760    | 2.6252     |
| Darrien Gordon      | 5    | 0    | -0.0290   | 314  | 6    | 2.5760    | 2.5470     |
| Derrick Witherspoon | 80   | 3    | 2.5360    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 2.5360     |
| Lenny Lyles         | 81   | 3    | 2.5302    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 2.5302     |
| Dave Williams       | 88   | 3    | 2.4896    | 1    | 0    | -0.0080   | 2.4816     |
| Henry Ellard        | 19   | 0    | -0.1102   | 135  | 4    | 2.5760    | 2.4658     |
| Charley Warner      | 86   | 3    | 2.5012    | 17   | 0    | -0.1360   | 2.3652     |
| Vitamin Smith       | 44   | 3    | 2.7448    | 48   | 0    | -0.3840   | 2.3608     |
| Dave Hampton        | 113  | 3    | 2.3446    | 0    | 0    | 0.0000    | 2.3446     |
| Justin Miller       | 106  | 3    | 2.3852    | 6    | 0    | -0.0560   | 2.3292     |
| Ray Mathews         | 42   | 0    | -0.2436   | 61   | 3    | 2.5120    | 2.2684     |
+---------------------+------+------+-----------+------+------+-----------+------------+

Fine print:

1. rather than computing a yearly average punt returner, I compared all players to the same baselines: .0058 kick return TDs per return and .008 punt return TDs per return. Because of the small samples involved, the averages tend to vary quite a bit from year to year. I eyeballed the list for about 20 seconds and didn't recognize a clear long term trend in one direction or the other. Obviously, I could have missed something, so it's possible that I'm penalizing one era compared to another.

2. I counted fair catches in the denominator when computing the punt return TD percentages.

3. This counts all seasons from 1950--2006. I added Hester's '07 numbers by hand. I also included Hester's '06 postseason numbers, but no one else's postseason numbers are included. Hence the asterisk by Hester.