Punt returner

What is the definition of Punt Returner in American Football?

A punt returner is a crucial player on the special teams unit of a gridiron football team. This player specializes in returning punts and kickoffs, adding both excitement and strategic advantages to the game. Typically, a punt returner is skilled at fielding the ball, evading tackles, and finding the best path to the end zone in a high-pressure situation.

While there are dedicated return specialists, many punt returners also play other positions, such as wide receiver, defensive back, or running back. These versatile athletes possess a unique combination of speed, agility, and vision, which enables them to excel at returning punts and significantly impact the outcome of the game.

Key Takeaways

  • Punt returners play a vital role on the special teams unit in American football
  • Return specialists often have additional positions on the team, showcasing their versatility
  • Success in punt returning depends on speed, agility, and strong decision-making skills

The Role of a Punt Returner


A punt returner in American football is primarily responsible for catching and returning punts from the opposing team during special teams plays. They must possess exceptional speed, agility, and decision-making skills to maximize the potential yardage gained on each return. Generally, punt returners also play other positions on the team, often as wide receivers or running backs.


When the punting team takes the field, the punt returner positions themselves downfield to receive the incoming kick. They must accurately anticipate the trajectory of the punt and position themselves accordingly. Vision and awareness are key in order to make quick decisions, either to catch the ball and begin the return or signal for a fair catch to secure possession without risking a fumble.

Skills Required

  • Catching and Ball Security: Punt returners need excellent hand-eye coordination and the ability to securely catch a ball under pressure. Maintaining possession is crucial to prevent turnovers and ensure the offense takes over.
  • Vision and Awareness: Returners must read the field and quickly assess the best route for the return, identifying potential blockers and gaps in the coverage.
  • Agility and Change of Direction: To evade incoming tackles, punt returners must possess a high level of agility, as well as the ability to change direction quickly and smoothly.
  • Acceleration and Burst: An effective punt returner has rapid acceleration to reach top speed in a short period, allowing them to exploit open spaces and maximize yardage.
  • Balance and Body Control: The ability to maintain balance and control while avoiding tackles is essential to extend the return and keep the play alive.

Types of Punt Returns

Blocking Strategies

In American football, when a team decides to punt, it’s crucial for the receiving team to effectively block the opposing team to create space for the punt returner. There are different blocking strategies utilized by teams to achieve this objective. One of the simplest formations is lining up eight or nine blockers on the line of scrimmage, with the aim of blitzing the punter and blocking the punt. This aggressive approach can be effective in stopping the punt and giving the punt returner room to maneuver.

Return Strategies

Once the punt has been executed, the focus shifts to the punt returner, who is responsible for fielding the punt and attempting to find open space for a successful return. A crucial aspect of return strategies is the returner’s vision and decision-making. They must be able to quickly assess the field and determine the best path forward while evading the opposing team’s coverage. A combination of elusiveness and agility is essential for a punt returner to effectively navigate through the opposition and secure positive yardage.

Ball security is also a key component of successful punt returns. The returner must be able to maintain control over the ball during the return attempts, avoiding costly fumbles that could lead to a change of possession. Lastly, special teams contributions, such as effective blocking and situational awareness, play a significant role in establishing good field position for the offense following a punt return.

Famous Punt Returners

Brian Mitchell is a well-known punt returner who played running back in the NFL for 14 seasons. He holds the league’s career records for both kickoff return yards with 14,014 and punt return yards with 4,999 by a significant margin. Mitchell’s impressive performance on the field solidified his position as one of the most famous punt returners in NFL history.

Devin Hester is another notable punt returner who has made a name for himself by breaking numerous records throughout his career. With 3,695 punt return yards to his name, Hester is the third-highest on the all-time list. Known for his incredible speed and agility, Hester set a new standard for punt returners and became a fan favorite due to his electrifying plays.

A few other famous punt returners include Dave Meggett, Darrien Gordon, and Eric Metcalf. Meggett earned 3,708 punt return yards during his career, placing him second on the all-time list. Gordon follows closely behind with 3,601 yards, while Metcalf achieved 3,453 yards in punt returns.

Some other noteworthy punt returners are Allen Rossum, Glyn Milburn, Mel Gray, and Josh Cribbs. These athletes demonstrated exceptional skill on the field, racking up impressive stats in kickoff and punt returns over the duration of their careers.

  • Allen Rossum: 821 career returns
  • Glyn Milburn: 711 career returns
  • Mel Gray: 673 career returns
  • Josh Cribbs: 648 career returns

In the history of the NFL, numerous punt returners have left their mark on the sport, captivating audiences with their agility, speed, and game-changing plays. The returners mentioned above have not only set records and contributed significantly to their teams’ success but have also inspired future generations of football players.

Training and Techniques

Punt returners in American Football hold a crucial role in determining field position and creating potential scoring opportunities for their team. To excel in this position, athletes need to focus on a few key training aspects and employ specific techniques.

Firstly, punt returners must possess exceptional speed and agility to quickly evade approaching defenders. To develop these abilities, players should incorporate agility ladder drills and short sprints into their training regimen. Additionally, in order to enhance their balance and quick change of direction, participating in plyometric exercises and practicing single-leg drills can be beneficial.

Another vital skill for punt returners is their ability to track the ball accurately while it is in the air. This requires excellent hand-eye coordination, which can be improved by practicing catching drills that involve various ball trajectories. It is essential for punt returners to focus on the ball’s highest point and adjust their position accordingly to secure a clean catch. Consequently, incorporating exercises that help improve peripheral vision, reaction time, and spatial awareness will further enhance their ability to anticipate and react to the ball’s path.

Decision-making is another crucial aspect of being a punt returner. Players must gauge whether to catch the ball, let it bounce, or signal for a fair catch based on the punt’s trajectory and the oncoming defenders’ positions. Studying game film of experienced punt returners and paying attention to coaching tips can help sharpen their decision-making skills.

During an actual punt return, athletes should employ evasive techniques such as spins, jukes, and stiff arms to dodge tackles and create space for themselves. Practicing these maneuvers regularly, along with honing their overall field vision, can make a significant difference in a returner’s performance on the field. Participating in open field drills, wherein the player aims to avoid defenders in a confined space, is a useful way to refine their evasive skills.

In summary, punt returners must possess a combination of speed, agility, hand-eye coordination, decision-making skills, and evasive techniques to excel in their role. Implementing targeted training exercises and developing the adeptness to analyze and respond to various situations on the field will significantly increase their chances of success during games.

Rules and Regulations

A punt returner in American Football is a special teams player whose primary role is to receive and return punts with the objective to gain yardage for the offense. They usually also serve as a kick returner on kickoffs. There are specific rules and regulations that apply to punt returners during a game.

First and foremost, the catching of the punt is paramount. The punt returner must catch the ball cleanly and maintain control of it throughout the return. If the punt returner drops the ball, it can result in a fumble, potentially leading to a turnover.

The fair catch rule is crucial in protecting the punt returner from dangerous hits. When the returner signals for a fair catch by waving their arm above their head, they have the right to catch the ball without any interference from the opposing team. The play is considered dead once the ball is caught, and the offense starts their drive at that spot.

Blocking and interference are important aspects of the punt return game. It is the responsibility of the returning team to set up blocks and create a path for their returner to maximize yardage. However, they must avoid committing penalties, such as holding or clipping, which could negate the return or result in a loss of yardage.

In addition to these regulations, the punt returner must follow general rules of the game. For instance, they cannot return a punt that has crossed the line of scrimmage and touched the ground unless it was partially blocked. Moreover, the opposing team has the right to down the ball once it has come to a stop, effectively ending the play.

Finally, the punt returner’s skill set includes evasive techniques to dodge tacklers and gain as much yardage as possible. This is done through a combination of speed, agility, and field awareness. Though not strictly related to rules and regulations, these skills are essential to becoming a successful punt returner in American Football.