Top 10 Kick Returners in the 2024 NFL Draft: Xavier Worthy, Daequan Hardy Top the List

New rule changes will increase kickoff returns and place a premium on talented kick returners. Which 2024 NFL Draft prospects will benefit?

The NFL owners passed a rule change on Tuesday to change the kickoff setup to the model used by the XFL last season. The model, put forth by Sam Schwartzstein in 2020, aims to reduce collisions on kickoffs while maximizing the possibility of returns.

All of a sudden, one month before the 2024 NFL Draft, kick returner is an important position again, and most NFL teams don’t have a worthy option currently on the roster. Rookies are the beneficiaries, as these 10 kick returners could see their stocks rise.

10 Best Kick Returners in the 2024 NFL Draft

10) Malik Washington, Virginia

Malik Washington is one of my favorite slot receiver prospects in the draft. He added kick returns to his arsenal in 2023, and while he didn’t break many huge returns, he gained valuable experience at the position.

Washington is a solid route runner who could find immediate success on offense and as a kick returner, even if he goes in the fifth round or later.

9) Tyrone Tracy Jr., Purdue

The running back class this year is interesting, with no clear-cut No. 1 option. There are plenty of intriguing Day 3 options, and Tyrone Tracy Jr. is one of them.

A bigger back, Tracy had a breakout year as a sixth-year senior, putting up over 900 yards from scrimmage. A former receiver, Tracy has excellent vision and the ability to run through arm tackles.

8) Jaelen Gill, Fresno State

Jaelen Gill is a guy who could benefit from the changes in the rules. He’s not overly athletic, but Gill was a reliable receiver for Fresno State, only dropping three passes in his final two years in college.

Gill began returning kicks in 2022 and got better as he progressed. He’s still likely an undrafted free agent but should get some priority looks from teams needing a special teamer.

7) Will Shipley, Clemson

In my opinion, the new rule fits Will Shipley‘s skill set better than any other player on this list. Now, pure speed is less important than vision and explosiveness, and Shipley has plenty of the latter two (though he doesn’t lack the former).

Shipley’s acceleration should allow him to slip through small gaps. And as return teams begin to implement running schemes into returns, his extensive experience as a running back will make him a prime return candidate.

6) Kenny Logan Jr., Kansas

Kenny Logan Jr. could move up in the 2024 NFL Draft due to what many consider a weaker safety class, and this only helps his cause. Logan’s production is among the best in the country at his position, as he racked up over 300 tackles and six interceptions to only five touchdowns allowed in his career.

5) Keilan Robinson, Texas

Keilan Robinson is likely headed for undrafted free agency after racking up under 800 rushing yards in his career, but he’s an able pass catcher and kick returner.

At just 5’8″ but nearly 200 pounds, Robinson is an intriguing RB option with good film as a pass catcher.

4) Lideatrick Griffin, Mississippi State

A twitchy slot receiver who could squeak into the late rounds of the draft, Lideatrick Griffin torched South Carolina last season but otherwise put up pedestrian numbers.

As a returner, however, Griffin is one of the most productive guys in the 2024 NFL Draft, averaging over 30 yards a return with two touchdowns in college. The rule change probably pushes him above a few other late-round receivers.

3) Ainias Smith, Texas A&M

While he was primarily a punt-return guy, the NFL rule change greatly benefits Ainias Smith. A multiple-time All-SEC selection as both an all-purpose guy and return specialist, Smith torched defenses throughout his career. He’s more of a guy who does several things well than a guy who excels at any one trait, but he’s a player teams will want on the roster.

2) Daequan Hardy, Penn State

Daequan Hardy could make an NFL roster on his coverage skills and athleticism alone, but the new rules could also allow him to excel as a return man.

Hardy ran one of the fastest 40-yard dashes at the NFL Combine and was tied for the highest vertical among players in attendance. While PFN has an early Day 3 grade on Hardy, he could now move into the Day 2 range.

1) Xavier Worthy, Texas

A borderline first-round prospect, the rule change simply rewards whatever team takes Xavier Worthy in the 20s or 30s. Worthy moved up draft boards after running the fastest 40-yard dash in the history of the NFL Combine.

KEEP READING: 2024 NFL Draft Fan Favorites

A solid route runner, the Texas Longhorn is more polished than John Ross, a common comparison, and seems destined for a productive NFL career.

All the 2024 NFL Draft resources you need — the draft order, the top QBs, the Top 100 prospects, and the full 2024 Big Board — right at your fingertips at Pro Football Network!

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