- Edward Aschoff, ESPN Staff Writer
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There are some out there looking to put an end to the kickoff, but we at the blog don't agree. It's one of the most exciting plays in football and the SEC is full of game-changers in the kicking game.
We've put our final list together and we've lumped kickoff returners and punt returners together.
Here are our top 10 kick returners in the SEC:
1. Joe Adams, Arkansas, Sr.: Adams is already one of the most exciting wide receivers to watch, especially in the open field. Now, put that into the Razorbacks’ punt return game and you have a highlight waiting to happen. He only returned 16 punts last year, but one went for a touchdown and he ranked second in the SEC with a 15.6 average per return.
2. Andre Debose, Florida, So.: He is yet to step up at receiver, but he was exciting to watch in the return game. He took two kicks back for touchdowns last season and was named the nation’s top kick returner by the College Football Performance Awards in 2010. Debose did have consistency issues at times, but if there’s one hole, he’s gone.
3. Brandon Boykin, Georgia, Sr.: Boykin is the school’s all-time leader in kick return yards (1,813) and has game-changing speed and ability in the return game. Last season, he averaged 24.3 yards per return and had a touchdown.
4. Trent Richardson, Alabama, Jr.: Despite being the lead running back in Alabama’s offense this season, Richardson still fielded kicks this spring and in the spring game. As long as he’s out there, he’s one of the best. Last season he averaged 26.4 yards per return and had one go for a touchdown.
5. Dennis Johnson, Arkansas, Jr.: In 2009, he became Arkansas’ all-time career and single-season leader in kickoff return yardage and broke the SEC kickoff return record in 2008. He missed most of last season due to injury, but he’s healthy and will be a tremendous weapon in the Hogs’ return game. For his career, he has 1,936 kick-return yards.
6. Warren Norman, Vanderbilt, Jr.: As a freshman, Norman was the top kick returner in the league after he took three kicks back for scores. Before injury last season, Norman averaged 25.4 yards per return on 22 kicks. When he’s healthy, he’s one of the toughest players to stop.
7. Branden Smith, Georgia, Jr.: He only had 10 punt returns last season, but he showed this spring that he can be very dangerous in space. He averaged 14.3 yards per return last season, and the coaches expect that number to rise this fall.
8. Chris Rainey, Florida, Sr.: Rainey is arguably the most elusive player in the SEC and putting him in space on special teams isn’t a good thing for opponents. He impressed the coaches fielding punts this spring and finally has the position to himself. He returned nine punts with Janoris Jenkins starting at punt returner last fall.
9. Philander Moore, Ole Miss, Jr.: The junior college transfer was brought in this spring specifically to return kicks. At Blinn (Texas) College last year, Moore had more than 800 combined return yards and scored six touchdowns.
10. Da’Rick Rogers, Tennessee, So.: Rogers didn’t have the most impressive numbers at kick returner in 2010, but he got nearly 300 yards on 12 returns. There are some questions in the return game, but Rogers brings the Vols that big-play ability needed to put the offense in good position.