The kick returner is the most thrilling position in American football, so hold onto your seats and get ready to be enlightened. These fearless risk-takers bounce off defenders like human pinballs, transforming the pitch into their very own amusement park.
Here at Cleats Hub, we will discuss their responsibilities, skills, tactics, and effects on the game.
Who Is A Kick Returner In Football?
A kick returner is another member of the special team unit in football, alongside the holder, long snapper, kicker, and other positions. They are specialists who take up the responsibility of catching the ball after a kickoff or punt from the opposing team.
After catching the ball, kick returners transition to moving the ball out of the defense and into the offense, possibly going for a touchdown. Kicker Returners are sometimes abbreviated as KR in football.
Is The Kick Returner A Dedicated Position In Football?
The position of kicker returner is not a dedicated position, as it is often taken up by players who already play a position such as wide receiver, defensive back, or running back. This is quite different from the roster dedicated spot kickers and long snappers get as part of the special team unit.
In most instances, players picked as kick returners are players who are not too built and have incredible speed and elusiveness. These conditions make it harder for them to get tackled when they are going for touchdowns.
How Many Kick Returners Are Usually On The Field?
The number of kick returners on the field is usually based on the purpose of the kick taken by the opposing team. When a kickoff is taken, the receiving team usually has two kick returners positioned at both ends, close to the end of the field where the ball will be landing.
However, when punts are to be taken, a single kick returner is positioned at the back end of the field.
What Happens After A Kick Returner Catches The Ball?
There are a few possibilities as to what happens after a kick returner catches the ball. The course of action to be taken depends on the kick returner and his immediate view of the game situation.
Two possibilities we will be talking about today include: settling for a fair catch and going for a touchdown.
Settling For A Fair Catch
After a kick is made, if the kick returner catches the ball, he could opt for a fair catch. In a fair catch, the kick returner waves his hand to call for a fair catch.
When he does this, he is allowed to catch the ball without any interference from any player on the opposing team. However, once he catches the ball, the ball becomes “dead”.
This simply means that he can’t advance with the ball. The team with the ball from either the kickoff or punt is then made to resume their drive for a touchdown from the point where the fair catch was made.
Moving For A Touchdown
On occasions when a kick returner sees an opportunity for him to advance with the ball all the way to a touchdown, he can go for it. This is not a regular occurrence, but it is one that occurs occasionally.
In the end, the decision about which course to follow depends on the kicker and how he reads the game.
Role of a Kick Returner
Specialized athletes with excellent speed, agility, vision, and decision-making skills are often kick returners. Along with offense and defense, the special teams unit is in charge of the third phase of the game, which they play a critical part in:
- Fielding the Kick:
The primary responsibility of the kick returner is to successfully catch or field the kick. They maintain possession of the ball with good hand-eye coordination and focus despite the pressure and potential chaos of approaching opponents.
- Reading and Reacting:
After catching the kick, the kick returner must quickly assess the coverage and decide how to get past the opposing players in a limited amount of time. They must also assess the coverage team’s velocity and heading to identify any potential running lanes or openings.
- Exploiting Gaps:
The kick returner must have good field awareness and vision to spot gaps in coverage. They analyze the defender’s positioning and movement to look for openings or seams that could result in massive yardage gains.
- Evading Tacklers:
A good kick returner must be capable of juking and evading. They must use their quickness, agility, and ability to change directions to avoid approaching tacklers and gain extra yards after impact.
- Maximizing Field Position:
The primary goal of a kick returner is to provide as much field position to their team’s offense as possible. Moreover, they hope to give the offense a smaller field to work with, increasing the chances of scoring or gaining a first down.
Skills Required for a Kick Returner
- Speed and Acceleration:
Kick returners must have exceptional speed to outrun opponents and quick acceleration to exploit coverage gaps.
- Agility and Evasion:
A kick returner must be agile and quick to change directions in order to avoid being tackled early and gain extra yardage.
- Vision and Field Awareness:
To read blocks, anticipate defender movements, and spot running lanes, kick returners must have excellent vision and a thorough understanding of the field.
- Balance and Body Control:
To stay on their feet and advance the ball, kick returners must maintain their balance and body control while navigating through traffic.
- Decision Making:
Kick returners must quickly decide whether to try a return or signal for a fair catch based on the field location, coverage speed, and the possibility of gaining positive yardage.
Kick Returner Types
In American football, various kick returners specialize in various aspects of kicking returns.
These kick returners can be distinguished by their skill set, playing style, and the specific scenarios in which they excel. Here are some examples of common kick returners:
1. Speedster Kick Returner
Kick returners, also known as “speedsters”, are known for their incredible straight-line speed. They rely on their lightning speed to outrun opponents and reach the open field as quickly as possible.
Speedsters frequently succeed on kickoff returns when their velocity allows them to quickly strike openings and find coverage seams.
2. Elusive Shifty Returners
Elusive returners are extremely fast, agile, and able to change directions. They are excellent at making defenders miss with their quick movements and jukes.
Furthermore, these returners are adept at avoiding tacklers, moving forward after contact, and navigating traffic. Because of their agility, they can quickly change directions, making them useful on both kickoff and punt returns.
3. Power Kick returner
These athletes are well-known for their strength and ability to avoid tackles. They can withstand impact and continue forward due to a combination of strength, balance, and lower-body power.
Also, power returners excel at eluding opponents, breaking arm tackles, and gaining yardage through brute force.
4. Dual-Threat Returners
Dual-threat returners are versatile athletes who excel at both kick and punt returns. They have a wide range of abilities, including quickness, agility, vision, and judgment.
In addition, these kick returners are skilled at adapting to a variety of situations and excel in many different aspects of kick returns. They are frequently used as versatile players who can contribute in a variety of ways.
5. Specialized Kick Returner
Within the return game, some returners concentrate on specific situations or job functions. Fair catch experts, for example, place a premium on receiving the kick correctly and gaining possession without attempting to advance the ball.
Risk-takers, on the other hand, are more likely to take risks and try to make big plays, even if it means fumbling or losing yards.
Techniques Used by a Kick Returner
American football kick returners use a variety of strategies to increase the efficacy of their kickoff returns. Here are some essential methods kick returners employ:
1. Catching Technique
Kick returners must have good catching techniques in order to properly capture the ball and decrease the potential for fumbles. They precisely line their hands, producing a diamond shape with their fingers.
They also keep their sight locked on the ball until it is under their control. They also keep a strong grasp on the ball to avoid fumbles.
2. Burst and Acceleration
Kick returners use their burst and acceleration after the kick is fielded to quickly speed upfield and gain separation from pursuing defenders. They dash away from the line of scrimmage, maximizing their speed in a short period of time with strong strides and fast leg movement.
3. Reading Blocks
When returning kicks, kick returners use their eyesight and field awareness to assess blocks and find running lanes. They look at the placement and movement of their blocks to see if there are any seams or gaps in the coverage.
They can also instantly select which running lane to use by reading the blocks.
4. Setting Up Blocks
Kick returners efficiently set up their blocks with their body posture and feet. They approach the line of scrimmage in an oblique fashion to sway defenders and make room for their blockers.
False motions, hesitancy, or changes in direction can also be employed to displace defenders and open doors.
5. Evasive Maneuvers
To avoid defenders and get as many yards as possible, kick returners employ a range of evasive moves. They use quick cuts, jukes, spins, and sidesteps to force defenders to miss.
These techniques require agility, balance, and body control to shift directions smoothly and maintain equilibrium while moving.
6. Burst Through the Seam
Kick returners who find a running lane might “burst through the seam” with their surge of speed. With their speed and agility, they move quickly through the opening, avoiding obstacles and gaining yards.
Top Kick Returners
It’s challenging to rank the greatest kick returners in NFL history since there are so many terrific players who have made a name for themselves.
The top five kick returners in NFL history are listed below.
1. Devin Hester
The majority of people believe Devin Hester is the best kick returner in NFL history. He had great speed, agility, and vision, and he executed game-changing moves on a regular basis.
Hester currently holds the NFL record for most career kickoff, punt, and missed-goal returns for touchdowns.
Last but not least, he revolutionized the return game, leaving onlookers and opponents astounded with his lightning-quick returns.
2. Dante Hall
Dante Hall, the “Human Joystick,” a thrilling kick returner, energized the spectators. He possessed an exceptional ability to change directions, which caused opponents to misinterpret him.
Furthermore, during his career, Hall delivered highlight-reel performances and now holds the record for the most return touchdowns in a season.
3. Josh Cribbs
During his NFL career, Josh Cribbs made an important impact as a kick returner. His strength, quickness, and elusiveness made him a serious threat on kickoff returns.
Cribbs holds NFL records for both return yards and touchdowns. He was also a valuable asset to his teams due to his ability to constantly give them outstanding field positions.
4. Brian Mitchell
A skilled kick returner with a wide range of abilities. He distinguishes himself from others due to his longevity and consistency. Mitchell holds the NFL record for combined and career punt returns in terms of yards.
Furthermore, his career-long ability to impact the return game for numerous organizations earned him a spot among the top returners in NFL history.
Imagine a nimble trickster dancing with fate in a flurry of explosive energy on a grassy field. With the ball tucked under their arm, they morph into a pied piper of mayhem while leading a symphony of uncertainty.
Also, they move like cunning sprites through a maze of giants, leaving defenders in a spell-bound fog.
These are the kick returners; they enchant us with their cheeky artistry and never fail to serve as a continual reminder that sometimes the best experiences come from going against the grain.