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    Identifying the Best Kick-Returner Option for All 32 Teams Under NFL’s New Kickoff Rule

    The new NFL kickoff rule will alter how teams utilize players on special teams. Which kick returner is the best option for each team in 2024?

    In recent years, kickoffs have become an unintentional extension of the commercial break during NFL games. That should change in 2024, thanks to the NFL’s new kickoff rule.

    NFL owners approved the league’s new kickoff rule in March, hoping to bring much-needed excitement back to a facet of the game that has become meaningless in recent years.

    How the New NFL Kickoff Rule Will Change Returns

    As the NFL looks to overhaul kickoffs in 2024, they’re adopting a rule set similar to what the XFL introduced during the league’s return.

    The new kickoff rule will provide an ideal balance of entertainment for the fans and reduce injury risk for the players.

    New Orleans Saints special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi recently discussed the rule change and how it will impact which players teams will use as kick returners.

    As Rizzi pointed out, the reduced injury risk will allow teams to use players as kick returners that they normally wouldn’t have wanted to expose them to.

    Who Is the Best Return Option for Each Team?

    Although the Saints have plenty of intriguing kick-returner options to discuss in 2024, the new kickoff rules open up endless possibilities. Before highlighting five wild card kick-returner options around the league, let’s identify the best candidates on each team for next season!

    Arizona Cardinals: DeeJay Dallas

    The Cardinals signed running back DeeJay Dallas to a three-year contract this offseason. Dallas made the most of his kick-return opportunities during his time with the Seattle Seahawks, averaging 25.9 yards per kick return for the Seahawks in 2023.

    Atlanta Falcons: Ray-Ray McCloud

    Although Avery Williams has established himself as a top punt returner, Ray-Ray McCloud is likely the better option at kick returns. Williams has averaged just 20.6 yards per kick return in his career, while McCloud has averaged 22.6 on significantly more opportunities.

    Baltimore Ravens: Justice Hill

    Deonte Harty showed explosive potential early in his NFL career, but he’s been limited in recent years. Justice Hill brings the perfect combination of size, explosiveness, and experience, which should give him the upper hand as Baltimore’s kick returner.

    MORE: John Harbaugh, Justin Tucker Discuss NFL’s New Kickoff Rules

    Buffalo Bills: Khalil Shakir

    Khalil Shakir is likely due for an increased role at wide receiver in 2024, but he’ll likely be Buffalo’s primary kick returner as well. Shakir has shown potential as a kick returner during his first two seasons with the Bills and could benefit from the rule changes that incentivize returns.

    Carolina Panthers: Raheem Blackshear

    In two seasons with the Panthers, Raheem Blackshear has already established himself as one of the best kick returners in the NFL. He’s averaged a whopping 26.9 yards per kick return and should retain the primary job for the Panthers in 2024.

    Chicago Bears: Velus Jones Jr.

    Although Velus Jones Jr. has disappointed at wide receiver since being selected in the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft, he has made an impact on special teams, averaging 27.4 yards per kick return in Chicago, making him the obvious choice in 2024.

    Cincinnati Bengals: Trayveon Williams

    Trayveon Williams impressed last season as Cincinnati’s kick returner, averaging 24.2 yards per return — nearly a two-yard improvement over his rookie season average. Williams will have competition, though, as fellow running back Chase Brown could push for the job as well.

    Cleveland Browns: Nyheim Hines

    Nyheim Hines is arguably the best kick returner in the NFL, which he put on display for Buffalo last season. He averaged 29.2 yards per kick return with the Bills, including two touchdown returns. He’s the clear favorite to win the job in Cleveland.

    Dallas Cowboys: KaVontae Turpin

    Since signing with the Dallas Cowboys in 2022, KaVontae Turpin has established himself as one of NFL’s most dangerous returners. In 2023, Turpin averaged 29.2 yards per kick return and will likely benefit from the rule changes during this upcoming season.

    Denver Broncos: Marvin Mims Jr.

    Marvin Mims Jr. was one of the Denver Broncos’ lone bright spots last season. The rookie showcased his game-breaking speed at both wide receiver and as a returner. He averaged 26.5 yards per kick return and ran one back for a touchdown.

    MORE: Everything You Need to Know About the NFL’s New Kickoff Rules

    Detroit Lions: Sione Vaki

    Sione Vaki is one of the most intriguing rookies in the NFL’s entirety. Vaki played both safety and running back at Utah, and the Detroit Lions believe he will be a great addition to their backfield. Yet, Vaki’s upside could truly shine on special teams, where he would be able to put his experience and toughness to use as Detroit’s primary kick returner.

    Green Bay Packers: Keisean Nixon

    Since joining the Packers in 2022, Keisean Nixon has established himself as the NFL’s top kick returner by being named a first-team All-Pro kick returner in each of the last two seasons. He’ll look to continue his dominance as the NFL changes its kickoff rules in 2024, which should give Nixon even more opportunities to showcase his game-breaking abilities.

    Houston Texans: Dameon Pierce

    After a promising rookie season in 2022, Dameon Pierce disappointed at running back last season. Yet, he emerged as a potentially elite kick returner, making the most of seven total returns. Pierce averaged an absurd 32.1 yards per return, including one 98-yard kickoff return for a score.

    Indianapolis Colts: Anthony Gould

    While Josh Downs could be in the mix here, rookie WR Anthony Gould offers a ton of upside as a returner. Gould returned just one kickoff during his college career, but he was an elite punt returner, averaging 16.3 yards per return with two touchdowns. His game-breaking speed could prove to be a lethal weapon for the Colts.

    Jacksonville Jaguars: Devin Duvernay

    Devin Duvernay snuck under the radar as one of Jacksonville’s free agent signings this offseason. For the Ravens, he showed elite potential as a kick returner, especially early in his career. Duvernay will likely benefit from the new kickoff rules and should be Jacksonville’s primary kick returner in 2024.

    Kansas City Chiefs: Kadarius Toney

    Although Kadarius Toney hasn’t returned any kickoffs in the NFL, he did in college. Now with the new NFL kickoff rules, he should get the opportunity to be Kansas City’s head returner in 2024. While many will want to see rookie wide receiver Xavier Worthy back there, Toney’s skill set is tailor-made for the new environment.

    MORE: Why Justin Reid May Handle Chiefs’ Kickoffs Instead of Harrison Butker

    Las Vegas Raiders: Tre Tucker

    Tre Tucker didn’t return any kickoffs for the Raiders as a rookie, but he could be the team’s top option this year. Tucker is a speedster who returned 67 total kickoffs in college at Cincinnati. He averaged 24.9 yards per return for the Bearcats, including two return touchdowns.

    Los Angeles Chargers: Derius Davis

    Similar to Turpin for the Cowboys, Derius Davis is an undersized wide receiver with explosive ability as a returner. While he averaged just 22.0 yards per return during his rookie season, he did showcase his explosiveness as a punt returner and should flourish in 2024.

    Los Angeles Rams: Boston Scott

    Boston Scott spent several seasons as a kick returner for the Philadelphia Eagles. Now, he’s moved across the country to likely play the same role on the West Coast. Although Scott isn’t the most explosive returner, he’s tough and should be able to break a few tackles and gain yardage after contact.

    Miami Dolphins: Braxton Berrios

    Although Braxton Berrios’ play at wide receiver has been inconsistent throughout his NFL career, he’s established himself as a reliable returner. Despite all of Miami’s speed on its roster, Berrios will likely be the team’s go-to returner in 2024 due to his experience and consistency at the position.

    MORE: The Miami Dolphins Are Planning to Get Creative on Kickoff Returns

    Minnesota Vikings: Ty Chandler

    Ty Chandler likely won a few fantasy football matchups down the stretch last season due to his surprisingly strong play. His potential this season as a kick returner is something that the Vikings are likely excited about heading into the upcoming season.

    New England Patriots: Jalen Reagor

    It’s no secret that Jalen Reagor has been a huge disappointment as a first-round wide receiver. However, he has shown flashes as a kick returner throughout his career, especially during his first season with the Patriots in 2023. Reagor averaged 31.6 yards per kick return in New England, including a 98-yard kickoff return touchdown.

    New Orleans Saints: Rashid Shaheed

    Rashid Shaheed burst onto the scene last season as a dangerous wide receiver for the Saints. Yet, he also showcased that he’s just as dangerous as a returner. Last season, Shaheed had 22.0 yards per kick return while also returning a punt for a touchdown.

    New York Giants: Tyrone Tracy Jr.

    Following the departure of Saquon Barkley, the Giants are looking for help at running back. Rookie Tyrone Tracy Jr. should be in the mix for some snaps in New York’s backfield, but he could be the team’s kick returner as well. At Purdue, Tracy averaged 25.5 yards per kick return in 2023.

    New York Jets: Xavier Gipson

    After signing with the Jets as an undrafted free agent last season, Xavier Gipson quickly became a fan favorite on “Hard Knocks.” But Gipson wasn’t just a television darling; he showed promise on the field, too.

    Gipson made plays at both wide receiver and returner, averaging 23.2 yards per kick return with an epic 65-yard punt return touchdown to beat the Bills.

    Philadelphia Eagles: Isaiah Rodgers

    The Eagles signed Isaiah Rodgers in 2023, despite his one-year suspension for gambling. Philadelphia’s decision could pay off thanks to Rodgers’ ability as a kick returner.

    Not only is Rodgers in the mix as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks, but he should also be Philadelphia’s primary kick returner thanks to his career average of 27.0 yards per return.

    Pittsburgh Steelers: Cordarrelle Patterson

    When the new NFL kickoff rules were announced, Cordarrelle Patterson was still available in free agency. The Steelers were wise to sign one of the greatest kick returners of all time following the rule change. Across his 11-year career, Patterson has averaged 29.3 yards per kick return with nine returned for touchdowns.

    San Francisco 49ers: Jordan Mason

    Plenty of people will be begging the Niners to use Deebo Samuel as a kick returner, but San Francisco likely won’t want to expose him to unnecessary injury too often. Therefore, backup RB Jordan Mason is likely to win the job after averaging 20.0 yards per kick return last season.

    Seattle Seahawks: D’Wayne Eskridge

    There’s no denying that D’Wayne Eskridge has been a bust of sorts since being selected by the Seahawks in Round 2 of the 2021 NFL Draft. Thanks to the new rule, though, he could revitalize his career as a kick returner. Eskridge averaged 28.0 yards per kickoff return for the Seahawks last season.

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Bucky Irving

    Although Bucky Irving didn’t return a ton of kickoffs in college, his running style is exactly what teams are looking for at the position. Irving is a shifty, explosive runner who is surprisingly tough to tackle despite his small stature. Tampa Bay will likely hand the starting job to its fourth-round pick.

    Tennessee Titans: Tyjae Spears

    After an impressive rookie season, Tyjae Spears could be in line for a bigger workload at running back, but he’ll also likely be Tennessee’s primary kick returner in 2024. Spears returned kicks during his rookie season and averaged 20.8 yards per return.

    Washington Commanders: Chris Rodriguez Jr.

    Although Chris Rodriguez Jr. hasn’t returned kicks in the NFL, he did return a couple in college at Kentucky. Due to the new rules, teams will likely rely on bigger and more physical runners than they did in recent years. Rodriguez would check both of those boxes for the Commanders.

    Who Are Some Wild Card Options To Watch?

    While it’s interesting to analyze which players will likely return kickoffs, there are also some fun options out there. Now let’s dive into a few unlikely wild card options to watch for at kick returner!

    Buffalo Bills: Gable Steveson

    The Bills are taking a chance on a former elite wrestler in Gable Steveson, as they will attempt to convert him to defensive tackle. Yet, I can’t help but wonder about the possibility of a kickoff coverage team trying to take down a man who had an 83-2 NCAA wrestling record in college.

    Cleveland Browns: Myles Garrett

    There’s no denying that the reigning Defensive Player of the Year is one of the most physically intimidating players in the NFL. Browns defensive end Myles Garrett looks like he was created in a lab and showcases his athleticism with his highlight dunks during the offseason. It would certainly be fun to see him return a kickoff for Cleveland in 2024.

    Dallas Cowboys: Micah Parsons

    Cowboys special teams coordinator John Fassel already said he would love to see Micah Parsons return kickoffs in Dallas. Parsons is an absolute freak athlete and among the best defensive players in the NFL. While the Cowboys likely wouldn’t want to expose him to any unnecessary injuries, it would be must-see television.

    New Orleans Saints: Taysom Hill

    Taysom Hill has essentially done it all for New Orleans since joining the team in 2017. As a rookie, he returned 14 kicks for the Saints, averaging 24.9 yards per kickoff return. He’s only returned four kicks in the last two seasons, but Hill could serve as the team’s primary kickoff returner in 2024 due to his size and athleticism.

    Pittsburgh Steelers: Justin Fields

    While this would be disrespectful to Steelers quarterback Justin Fields, it would be intriguing to watch. Fields has made plenty of plays with his legs in the NFL, and the idea of the Steelers putting him back there to return kicks has to be enticing. After all, he does have the size and legitimate game-breaking speed to be a threat as a kickoff returner.

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