What Is a Kick Returner In Football?

A kick returner in football is a special team position that is responsible for returning kickoffs. Kickoffs occur to start the game, the second half, and after each score.

This position is typically played by fast and elusive players such as wide outs or half backs. After recent rule changes, this position has become less prevalent as touchbacks on kickoffs have increased in frequency.


Kick Returns

Return the kick themselves is of course the biggest responsibility of this position. Though most kicks will be called touchbacks it is the few that are returned in which this position earns their paycheque.

A kick returner will catch the ball and have to sort their way through their ten blockers and the opposing team’s eleven defenders.

If the returner makes it past the twenty-five-yard line it is considered a successful return. And though uncommon in recent years there are always a few kickoffs that are returned for touchdowns. Means that this position can potentially have quite a large impact on the game.

Determining Touchbacks

The next most important responsibility of a kick returner is to determine when to return kicks. Recent rule changes have moved the touchback location. Previously when a touchback occurred the receiving team started at the twenty, now they start at the twenty five.

This means that if the returner does not believe he is going to reach the twenty five yard line they should just take the touchback. Making the correct decision regarding touchbacks is an important aspect of kick returning.

Hands Team

On some occasions, the team kicking off may attempt an onside kick. This means they will kick the ball a short distance and attempt to recover it themselves. On these kicks, the kick returners are situated only ten to fifteen yards from the kicker.

These players are referred to as the “hands team” as they are responsible for catching the onside kick before the opposing team has a chance to recover it themselves.

Kick Returner Attributes


Vision is arguably the most important attribute that a kick returner can have. As we stated earlier a kick return features eleven defenders attempting to tackle you and ten teammates looking to block these defenders.

In order to see through this mass of players and find a hole vision is required. The best kick returners in the league always manage to choose the right path towards the endzone when returning a kick.


Speed and elusiveness are two more important aspects of a kick returner. On top of knowing where to go you need to be able to beat defenders when they get in your way.

Whether that is outrunning a player to the endzone or juking out a player in open field having these traits is a must for a kick returner.

Decision Making

When it comes to returning kickoffs decision-making is another important factor. As we already covered earlier in the article the decision on to return a kick or take a touchback is quite an important one.

Almost every kick is going to be caught in the endzone by a returner meaning he will likely have to make this decision several times per game. In order to be an effective returner the player must be able to effectively decide when to return and when to take a touchback.

Making these decisions effectively will have a positive outcome on the teams field position.


The build of kick returner is very similar to that of a wide receiver. Most kick returners tend to play wide receiver, running back, or defensive back when they are not returning kicks.

These players typically have smaller frames and carry little to no body fat. Kick returners often have smaller frames because they are expected to avoid contact and not run through it.

Concluding Thoughts

Hopefully, this article on kick returners in football has taught you everything you needed to know about the position. If you have any more questions please feel free to reach out in the comments below.

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