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For more from Chase and Jason, check out their work at Football Perspective and The Big Lead.

Josh Cribbs, superstar

Posted by Chase Stuart on June 10, 2008

Yesterday, we looked at a way to measure the value of a good or bad return team, and some of the best return teams of all time. To start today, here are the top 50 individual kickoff returner seasons since the merger:

kr      kryd    krtd    AY/KR	LGKR	KR_VAL	year    team
59	1809	2	31.00	22.77	486	2007	cle	Josh Cribbs
82	2186	1	26.78	22.00	392	2000	crd	MarTay Jenkins
46	1391	1	30.46	22.34	373	2005	buf	Terrence McGee
28	 918	3	33.86	21.04	359	1985	ram	Ron J. Brown
54	1542	2	28.93	22.34	356	2005	htx	Jerome Mathis
37	1099	0	29.70	20.32	347	1981	was	Mike Nelms
45	1276	3	29.02	21.31	347	1994	det	Mel J. Gray
28	 869	3	32.11	21.47	340	1977	nwe	Raymond Clayborn
41	1191	2	29.54	21.62	325	2003	chi	Jerry Azumah
23	 752	4	34.43	22.18	322	1970	chi	Cecil Turner
20	 707	1	35.85	22.18	313	1970	clt	Jim Duncan
40	1067	2	27.18	19.47	308	1992	atl	Deion Sanders
51	1428	2	28.39	22.37	307	1998	det	Terry Fair
51	1382	1	27.29	21.29	306	1999	cin	Tremain Mack
58	1541	2	26.91	21.70	302	2001	sdg	Ronney Jenkins
46	1314	1	28.78	23.06	301	1971	gnb	Dave Hampton
70	1807	2	26.10	21.85	297	2002	nor	Michael Lewis
35	1022	1	29.49	22.18	292	1970	ram	Alvin Haymond
36	 982	1	27.56	19.46	292	1989	pit	Rod Woodson
41	1098	1	27.02	20.00	288	1988	rai	Tim Brown
46	1304	2	28.78	22.58	285	2006	nyj	Justin Miller
36	 992	1	27.83	19.97	283	1980	nwe	Horace Ivory
33	 998	1	30.55	22.02	281	1996	car	Michael Bates
47	1181	1	25.34	19.46	277	1989	dal	James Dixon
30	 924	1	31.13	23.11	275	1972	chi	Ron Smith
30	 892	2	30.40	21.29	273	1999	ram	Tony Horne
32	 968	3	31.19	22.77	269	2007	htx	Andre' Davis
49	1293	2	26.80	21.31	269	1994	sdg	Andre Coleman
52	1370	3	26.92	21.77	268	2004	buf	Terrence McGee
57	1478	2	26.28	21.62	266	2003	kan	Dante Hall
31	 866	1	28.26	19.80	262	1986	nor	Mel J. Gray
58	1509	2	26.36	21.85	261	2002	nyj	Chad Morton
47	1269	0	27.00	21.47	260	1995	den	Glyn Milburn
68	1718	2	25.56	21.77	258	2004	kan	Dante Hall
36	 962	0	26.72	19.57	258	1983	mia	Fulton Walker
39	1082	3	28.51	22.00	254	2000	atl	Darrick Vaughn
47	1291	3	28.11	22.77	251	2007	nyj	Leon Washington
70	1791	0	25.59	22.02	250	1996	nor	Tyrone Hughes
22	 675	1	31.14	19.84	249	1984	nyj	Bobby Humphery
36	 929	0	25.81	18.95	247	1991	det	Mel J. Gray
60	1577	1	26.45	22.34	246	2005	nyj	Justin Miller
47	1281	0	27.26	22.08	243	1997	car	Michael Bates
57	1497	2	26.61	22.37	242	1998	gnb	Roell Preston
58	1478	0	25.48	21.31	242	1994	was	Brian Mitchell
43	1148	1	26.93	21.31	242	1994	dal	Kevin Williams
36	1011	1	28.36	22.54	239	1973	was	Herb Mul-Key
56	1431	2	25.91	21.70	236	2001	car	Steve Smith
63	1556	2	25.02	21.31	233	1994	nor	Tyrone Hughes
53	1345	0	25.38	21.04	230	1985	min	Buster Rhymes
28	 812	1	29.36	22.18	230	1970	mia	Mercury Morris

The first thing that has to stand out from that list is just how awesome Josh Cribbs was last year. His 2007 season stands alone in the pantheon of great kickoff return seasons. He brought in nearly 500 more adjusted yards than an average kickoff returner would have last season, given 59 returns.

A bit surprising, perhaps, is the appearance of only one Deion Sanders season. Mel Gray appears on the list thrice, while Terrence McGee, Justin Miller, Michael Bates, Dante Hall and Tyrone Hughes appear two times, each. And while Brian Mitchell is only on there once, he also has the 51st and 52nd best seasons.

What about the worst kickoff return seasons?

If you're bad, you usually don't stick around as a returner for very long, so most of the really bad returners were probably replaced sometime in mid-season. Here are the worst 20:


kr kryd krtd AY/KR LGKR KR_VAL year team
30 536 0 17.87 22.00 -124 2000 sfo Kevin Williams
22 383 0 17.41 22.37 -109 1998 sfo Chuck Levy
21 361 0 17.19 20.11 -109 1982 tam Michael Morton
64 1280 1 20.16 21.85 -109 2002 buf Charlie Rogers
23 342 0 14.87 19.50 -106 1993 nyj Adrian Murrell
12 168 0 14.00 22.77 -105 2007 chi Rashied Davis
21 354 0 16.86 21.85 -105 2002 sea James Williams
8 102 0 12.75 20.11 -105 1982 ram Mike Guman
22 382 0 17.36 22.08 -104 1997 nyg Erric Pegram
7 50 0 7.14 21.47 -100 1995 den Aaron Craver
10 113 0 11.30 21.31 -100 1994 det Derrick Moore
32 623 0 19.47 22.58 -100 2006 car DeAngelo Williams
34 576 0 16.94 19.84 - 98 1984 buf Don Wilson
58 1147 0 19.78 21.47 - 98 1995 tam Bobby Joe Edmonds
7 62 0 8.86 22.77 - 97 2007 cle Darnell Dinkins
15 252 0 16.80 22.48 - 97 1975 nwe Leon McQuay
16 250 0 15.63 21.70 - 97 2001 pit Hank Poteat
17 271 0 15.94 21.62 - 97 2003 tam Thomas Jones
22 332 0 15.09 19.46 - 96 1989 nyg Mark Ingram
23 364 0 15.83 20.00 - 96 1988 kan Paul Palmer
31 615 0 19.84 22.54 - 96 1973 nyj Margene Adkins
16 268 0 16.75 20.11 - 96 1982 det Robbie Martin
33 547 0 16.58 19.46 - 95 1989 gnb Vince Workman
40 685 0 17.13 19.46 - 93 1989 tam Donnie Elder
26 488 0 18.77 22.34 - 93 2005 sfo Rasheed Marshall
6 36 0 6.00 21.47 - 93 1995 nyj Fred Baxter
34 645 0 18.97 21.70 - 93 2001 nyg Ron Dixon
18 335 0 18.61 23.06 - 92 1971 cin Paul Robinson
15 251 0 16.73 22.77 - 91 2007 kan Benny Sapp
28 527 0 18.82 22.02 - 90 1996 min Qadry Ismail

We can safely assume that any of the players in single digits in adjusted yard per kickoff return -- Fred Baxter, for example -- were dealing with a bunch of onside kicks that year and weren't real "return" men. Undoubtedly, others on this list were affected by handling a bunch of squib kicks.

What about the punt returners? The table below lists the top 30 individual punt return seasons since the merger:

pr      pryd    prtd    AY/PR	LGPR	PR_VAL	year    team
58	875	3	15.60	10.16	316	1996	gnb	Desmond Howard
40	612	3	16.05	 9.22	312	1975	oti	Billy Johnson
42	651	4	16.45	 9.29	301	2007	chi	Devin Hester
35	539	2	15.97	 8.90	283	1977	oti	Billy Johnson
40	581	2	15.03	 8.35	267	1980	kan	J.T. Smith
39	536	4	14.77	 9.13	251	1976	den	Rick Upchurch
48	646	1	13.67	 9.13	249	1976	was	Eddie Brown
45	608	2	13.96	 9.13	248	1976	nwe	Mike Haynes
46	615	3	14.02	 8.65	247	1981	ram	LeRoy Irvin
15	242	2	17.47	 8.20	247	1982	den	Rick Upchurch
48	655	0	13.65	 9.22	243	1975	rai	Neal Colzie
51	653	1	13.00	 8.90	239	1977	den	Rick Upchurch
36	578	2	16.61	10.09	235	2000	rav	Jermaine Lewis
45	600	2	13.78	 8.80	224	1991	was	Brian Mitchell
43	516	0	12.00	 7.45	224	1970	sfo	Bruce Taylor
47	600	3	13.40	 8.86	214	2006	chi	Devin Hester
44	625	1	14.43	 9.63	211	2002	nor	Michael Lewis
29	472	2	16.97	 9.69	211	2003	kan	Dante Hall
41	577	1	14.32	 9.86	209	1974	pit	Lynn Swann
18	338	2	19.89	 9.86	206	1974	cin	Lemar Parrish
53	656	1	12.57	 8.67	206	1984	pit	Louis Lipps
44	556	2	13.09	 8.54	200	1988	sfo	John Taylor
36	493	1	13.97	 8.43	199	1978	den	Rick Upchurch
27	440	1	16.67	 9.29	199	2007	buf	Roscoe Parrish
35	517	0	14.77	 9.86	196	1974	nwe	Mack Herron
37	520	2	14.59	 9.35	194	1985	nwe	Irving Fryar
7	156	1	23.71	 8.20	193	1982	sfo	Dana McLemore
25	413	2	17.32	 9.63	192	2002	nyj	Santana Moss
58	612	2	10.90	 7.70	185	1979	kan	J.T. Smith
37	503	2	14.14	 9.23	182	1993	nor	Tyrone Hughes

Hester's doing pretty well, but maybe we shouldn't crown him just yet. He's no 'White Shoes' Johnson, who owns two of the top four spots in punt returner history. And while Desmond Howard, 1996, will probably conjure up memories of his Super Bowl kickoff return, he also had the best punt return season since the merger, and scored the opening touchdown via punt return in Green Bay's big win over rival San Francisco in the playoffs. And don't forget about Dante Hall's magical 2003 season; he didn't have enough punt returns to rank in the top five, but he was lights out that year whenever he touched the ball.

How about the worst 25 punt return seasons:

pr      pryd    prtd    AY/PR	LGPR	PR_VAL	year    team   
33	163	0	4.94	10.09	-170	2000	buf	Chris Watson
48	239	0	4.98	 8.43	-166	1978	min	Kevin Miller
57	313	0	5.49	 8.35	-163	1980	tam	Danny Reece
33	183	0	5.55	 9.86	-163	1974	chi	Ike Hill
47	277	0	5.89	 8.90	-162	1977	min	Manfred Moore
35	180	0	5.14	 9.63	-157	2002	gnb	Darrien Gordon
30	152	0	5.07	10.16	-153	1996	nor	Tyrone Hughes
28	139	0	4.96	10.16	-145	1996	nyj	Wayne Chrebet
43	295	0	6.86	10.13	-141	1998	crd	Eric Metcalf
54	372	0	6.89	 9.13	-138	1976	atl	Rolland Lawrence
33	126	0	3.82	 7.45	-137	1970	chi	Ron Smith
36	185	0	5.14	 8.86	-134	2006	car	Chris Gamble
37	242	0	6.54	10.16	-134	1996	pit	Andre Hastings
37	159	0	4.30	 7.45	-133	1970	pit	Hubie Bryant
25	111	0	4.44	 9.69	-131	2003	buf	Antonio Brown
24	106	0	4.42	 9.13	-129	1976	nyg	Jim Robinson
29	154	0	5.31	 9.69	-127	2003	nyg	Brian Mitchell
42	241	0	5.74	 8.70	-124	1983	buf	Robb Riddick
34	225	0	6.62	10.09	-118	2000	cin	Craig Yeast
51	352	0	6.90	 8.90	-117	1977	atl	Rolland Lawrence
31	182	0	5.87	 9.63	-117	2002	crd	Arnold Jackson
37	210	1	5.95	 9.09	-116	1994	oti	Ernest Givins
30	143	0	4.77	 8.64	-116	2004	ram	Shaun McDonald
30	189	0	6.30	10.13	-115	1998	det	Terry Fair
24	93	0	3.88	 8.64	-114	2004	oti	Derrick Mason

The less said about those guys, the better.

We can look at careers, too. Here are the top 20 kickoff return men judged by career value -- that is, the sum of all their individual seasons. The second column shows their kickoff return value over average for their career if you eliminate all of their negative seasons, and the third shows career kickoff returns.

			KR car	KR car+	KR	
Mel J. Gray		1781	1795	421	
Brian Mitchell		1093	1188	607	
Michael Bates		1087	1151	373	
Glyn Milburn		 951	 997	407	
Tyrone Hughes		 948	 948	283	
Terrence McGee		 876	 889	203	
Dante Hall		 858	 874	389	
Josh Cribbs		 711	 711	165	
Mike Nelms		 710	 710	175	
Rod Woodson		 619	 637	220	
Herschel Walker		 614	 656	215	
Ron J. Brown		 613	 613	199	
Dennis Gentry		 592	 663	192	
Michael Lewis		 584	 653	248	
MarTay Jenkins		 581	 581	151	
Ron Smith		 544	 546	139	
Deion Sanders		 543	 583	155	
Terry Metcalf		 539	 561	121	
Justin Miller		 534	 534	108	
Tamarick Vanover	 527	 577	226	

Mel Gray stands alone as the best kickoff returner ever. Brian Mitchell deserves all the accolades he receive, because he ranks second and this list and third on the one below. McGee, Cribbs and Hall all have a chance to keep climbing the charts. But it will take a Herculean effort for someone to catch up to Gray.

Same numbers, punt returners.

                	PR car	PR car+	 PR	
Rick Upchurch		1128	1143	 248	
Billy Johnson		1002	1062	 282	
Brian Mitchell		 656	 905	 463	
Vai Sikahema		 609	 639	 292	
Darrien Gordon		 604	 797	 314	
Desmond Howard		 554	 701	 244	
J.T. Smith		 546	 599	 267	
Mike Fuller		 540	 641	 252	
Devin Hester		 514	 514	  89	
Dave Meggett		 509	 574	 349	
Bill Thompson		 500	 506	 132	
Mel J. Gray		 480	 567	 252	
Jermaine Lewis		 461	 647	 295	
Dana McLemore		 375	 492	 152	
Tim Brown		 370	 476	 326	
Jake Scott		 363	 363	 130	
Roscoe Parrish		 361	 361	  73	
Henry Ellard		 361	 422	 135	
Dante Hall		 335	 505	 207	
Greg Pruitt		 325	 347	 194	
Dennis Northcutt	 323	 440	 228	
B.J. Sams		 301	 301	 117	
LeRoy Irvin		 301	 379	 147	 
Neal Colzie		 291	 383	 170	
Bobby Joe Edmonds	 287	 287	 134	
Bruce Harper		 273	 319	 183	 
Paul Johns		 272	 272	  74	
Irving Fryar		 267	 382	 206	 
Deion Sanders		 260	 431	 212	
Louis Lipps		 259	 327	 112	

You don't hear a lot about Rick Upchurch, but he was quite the stud returner. Along with Johnson and Brian Mitchell, they're the standard all future punt returners should strive for. Hester, of course, is very close to reaching that level -- with another big year, he might vault into third place. Deion Sanders ranks surprisingly low on both these lists, although part of the reason he's remembered is because he was both a punt and kickoff returner. He does rank a bit higher on the next list.

Here's the top returners, all time, with punt and kickoff return value added.


Ret val Ret car+ KR car KR car+ PR car PR car+
Mel J. Gray 2260 2361 1781 1795 480 567
Brian Mitchell 1749 2093 1093 1188 656 905
Rick Upchurch 1446 1483 318 340 1128 1143
Billy Johnson 1324 1441 322 379 1002 1062
Dante Hall 1193 1380 858 874 335 505
Michael Bates 1031 1151 1087 1151 - 56 0
Glyn Milburn 998 1230 951 997 46 232
Vai Sikahema 964 1000 356 362 609 639
Dave Meggett 893 1099 384 525 509 574
Terrence McGee 876 889 876 889 0 0
Mike Nelms 862 922 710 710 152 212
Josh Cribbs 842 847 711 711 131 136
Tyrone Hughes 816 1129 948 948 -132 182
Deion Sanders 804 1014 543 583 260 431
Desmond Howard 750 1109 197 409 554 701
Terry Metcalf 728 789 539 561 189 228
Greg Pruitt 714 796 389 449 325 347
Michael Lewis 683 953 584 653 99 300
Bruce Harper 679 728 406 410 273 319
Rod Woodson 668 871 619 637 49 234
Tamarick Vanover 667 852 527 577 140 274
Ron Smith 658 825 544 546 114 279
Tim Brown 635 780 265 305 370 476
Allen Rossum 629 998 469 599 160 398
Herschel Walker 614 656 614 656 0 0
Ron J. Brown 613 613 613 613 0 0
Fulton Walker 607 708 462 549 146 159
Eddie Payton 595 667 524 524 71 143
Devin Hester 586 611 71 96 514 514
MarTay Jenkins 572 581 581 581 - 9 0

That list is pretty much a who's who of the best return men in league history.

Finally, here's a year-by-year look at the top KR and PR in the NFL.

	Top KR			KR Val	Top PR			PR Val
2007	Josh Cribbs		486	Devin Hester		301
2006	Justin Miller		285	Devin Hester		214
2005	Terrence McGee		373	B.J. Sams		131
2004	Terrence McGee		268	Allen Rossum		147
2003	Jerry Azumah		325	Dante Hall		211
2002	Michael Lewis		297	Michael Lewis		211
2001	Ronney Jenkins		302	Troy Brown		148
2000	MarTay Jenkins		392	Jermaine Lewis		235
1999	Tremain Mack		306	Tamarick Vanover	163
1998	Terry Fair		307	Jacquez Green		159
1997	Michael Bates		243	Jermaine Lewis		177
1996	Michael Bates		281	Desmond Howard		316
1995	Glyn Milburn		260	David Palmer		106
1994	Mel J. Gray		347	Brian Mitchell		181
1993	Tony Smith		217	Tyrone Hughes		182
1992	Deion Sanders		308	Kelvin Martin		161
1991	Mel J. Gray		247	Brian Mitchell		224
1990	Mel J. Gray		153	Clarence Verdin		132
1989	Rod Woodson		292	Dave Meggett		173
1988	Tim Brown		288	John Taylor		200
1987	Paul Palmer		217	Vai Sikahema		165
1986	Mel J. Gray		262	Vai Sikahema		168
1985	Ron J. Brown		359	Irving Fryar		194
1984	Bobby Humphery		249	Louis Lipps		206
1983	Fulton Walker		258	Greg Pruitt		171
1982	Mike Mosley		222	Rick Upchurch		247
1981	Mike Nelms		347	LeRoy Irvin		247
1980	Horace Ivory		283	J.T. Smith		267
1979	Jimmy Edwards		209	J.T. Smith		185
1978	Tony Green		152	Rick Upchurch		199
1977	Raymond Clayborn	340	Billy Johnson		283
1976	Duriel Harris		222	Rick Upchurch		251
1975	Rick Upchurch		211	Billy Johnson		312
1974	Terry Metcalf		216	Lynn Swann		209
1973	Herb Mul-Key		239	Ron Smith		173
1972	Ron Smith		275	Ken Ellis		142
1971	Dave Hampton		301	Jake Scott		 97
1970	Cecil Turner		322	Bruce Taylor		224

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