Kick and punt returners who are flying under the radar, but could explode this season. Profiled players include LaMichael James, Chris Rainey, David Wilson, Joe Adams, and Trindon Holliday.
After several seasons in Houston with mixed results, Jones now finds himself with the Ravens -- a team that definitely needed improvement in the return game from last season and also needed a WR3 behind Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin. Jones has been impressive in the preseason, showing electric burst as both a kick and punt returner and also seeing snaps with the first team offense with Torrey Smith injured. He's flashed speed on end-arounds and has also shown good hands. While other kick and punt returners are in the mix for the Ravens, Jones is clearly first on their depth chart and looks to be seeing the field regularly as a WR when the offense goes three wide. Another thing is Jones favor is his height… while most returners are smurfish, Jones has the height that will also allow him to excel as an outside/vertical WR.
Weems was a standout return man in his tenure with the Falcons, and the Bears look to lean on Weems in that role as well. Valuable on both kicks and punts, Weems also has the versatility to be used as a WR -- something the Bears have lacked in recent years. Rookie Alshon Jeffrey is ahead of Weems on the WR depth chart, but Weems could possibly beat out Hester for the third WR role. On punt returns, Weems will always play second fiddle to Devin Hester, but with Johnny Knox injured Weems should get the majority of the kick return work.
RB Demps, Jeff, NE
Bill Belichick has been looking for a more explosive upgrade in the kick return game for several seasons now. Enter Demps, the recently-signed undrafted free agent Olympic sprinter. New England had been courting Demps prior to his decision to skip the NFL combine and participate in the Olympics, which may have been a factor in his decision to sign with the Patriots instead of the many other teams that showed interest in him once he declared himself NFL eligible. Demps has world-class speed, and will challenge Chris Johnson as the fastest player in the league. Belichick is a master of matching a player's talents to his team's scheme, and Demps should be no different. The NE backfield is crowded with young RBs with speed, pass-catching ability, and upside. But none offer the kick return prowess that Demps does. While a teammate of Chris Rainey's at Florida, Demps was also used as a receiver, and also caught many passes out of the backfield as a traditional RB. If Belichick and coordinator Josh McDaniels can find creative ways to use Demps on the weapons-laden 2012 Patriots, the sky is the limit for this Olympian.
FFToolbox Fantasy Football Writer since 2011
For many years now, I have been in a competitive all-purpose-yards league, so research into kick and punt return stats have factored heavily into my preparations for each NFL season, as well as my weekly assessments of player performance.