Our look at the SEC's most productive returning players in 2012 concludes with a look at the league's top returning punt returners.
The SEC returns six of the top 10 punt returners from 2011. Unfortunately for all those interested in watching one of the most electrifying plays in football, the SEC's top returner won't be back. Arkansas' Joe Adams must have had a blast returning punts last year. If you don't believe me just look here. He led the nation with four punt returns for touchdowns and led the SEC with an average of 16.9 yards per return. His moves will be missed, but the top player returning (we're going by average per return) isn't too bad either:
Tyrann Mathieu, CB, LSU: He averaged 15.6 yards on 27 returns, had a long of 92 yards and recorded two touchdowns. If Adams was the most exciting punt returner in the country, Mathieu was a close second. He completely turned the Arkansas and Georgia games to LSU's favor with three huge returns. The first came on a 92-yarder against the Razorbacks to tie the game at 14 in the second quarter and helped spark a 34-3 run for the Tigers. Against Georgia in the SEC championship game, he gave LSU its first points of the game with a 62-yard touchdown return in the second quarter, but his most exciting return came on a scintillating 47-yarder in the third that he took down to Georgia's 17-yard line. Mathieu is a game-breaking returner and the best thing teams can do is just kick away from him.
The SEC returns five more of the top 10 punt returners from 2011:
Johnthan Banks, CB, Mississippi State: He averaged 10.4 yards on 16 returns, had a long of 65 yards and recorded one touchdown.
Ace Sanders, WR, South Carolina: He averaged 9.3 yards on 12 returns, had a long of 68 yards and recorded one touchdown.
Marquel Wade, WR, Arkansas (currently not a part of Arkansas' team): He averaged 8.2 yards on 12 returns and had a long of 19 yards.
Quan Bray, WR, Auburn: He averaged 7.4 yards on 13 returns and had a long of 24 yards.
Jonathan Krause, WR, Vanderbilt: He averaged 4.1 yards on 19 returns and had a long of 18 yards.
Teams will likely kick away from Mathieu more this fall, so he could have a tougher time going for the crown in 2012. One player who could really push for the top spot in this category is Wade. But with him not currently being with the team following his recent arrest, he might not have the chance. Wade is a very dynamic athlete and got to learn from the best in Adams. If he comes back, he'll definitely compete for the throne.
Banks could have competition from his own teammate in Chad Bumphis. Bumphis only returned eight punts last fall, but returned one 82 yards for a score and averaged 16.6 yards per return.
Krause is someone to keep an eye on. Coach James Franklin was very pleased with how his spring went, but he might have to battle incoming freshman Brian Kimbrow here as well.
Texas A&M's Dustin Harris could certainly challenge for the crown after the season he had in 2011. He led the Big 12, averaging 18.6 yards per return, had a long of 72 yards and registered a touchdown. Last season against Kansas, Harris set the school record with 162 punt return yards, including that 72-yard score.
Ole Miss' Jeff Scott still has some academic hurdles to get over, but when he's fielding punts, he's one of the most fun to watch in the SEC. He averaged 17.2 yards per return on just eight returns last year and returned one for a touchdown.