John DeShazier picks the top five returners the New Orleans Saints will face in 2015
- Until otherwise noted, Devin Hester remains the best in the business. After all, the Falcons receiver happens to be the best in NFL history – the four-time All-Pro, four-time Pro Bowler holds the league records for most all-time return touchdowns (20) and most punt return touchdowns (14). Don't let the age (32) fool you; Hester returned 45 kickoffs for 1,128 yards (25.1 yards per return) last year, and took back 18 punts for 240 yards (13.3 yards) and a touchdown. He's not much into fair catches, and he's likely to bring back any kickoff that doesn't sail out of the end zone. And, again, the Saints will have to see him twice.
- Colts receiver Josh Cribbs is no Hester (who is?), but Cribbs had a 32-yard average on 19 kickoff returns. He also returns punts (19 for 125) but his forte last season was giving Indy good field position after kickoff returns, shortening the field for one of the NFL's most potent offenses. He'll be another challenge for Saints punter Thomas Morstead; if the kickoffs aren't out of the end zone, Cribbs will be a threat to flip the field position.
- If you don't know much about Josh Huff, he's worth a bit of study. He's a little-known receiver for the Eagles, a third-round draft pick who played for Coach Chip Kelly when Kelly was head coach at Oregon. He also is an electrifying returner – 14 kickoff returns for 415 yards last season (29.6 yards), including a 107-yard touchdown return. He's just another weapon that the Eagles have at the ready.
- If Cribbs isn't doing the damage for Indianapolis on kickoff returns, the Colts can turn to receiverGriff Whalen. Whalen (15 returns for 379 yards, a 25.3-yard average) was almost as proficient as was Cribbs. He also returns punts (26 for 187 yards), so the Colts feel comfortable whether Cribbs or Whalen is on the receiving end of kicks or punts.
- There is no good news for the Saints regarding Chris Polk. Polk was an Eagle last year, and the running back was a fantastic kick returner (11 for 340 yards, a 30.9-yard average, and a 102-yard touchdown return). But just because he's no longer an Eagle doesn't mean the Saints don't have to face him. Now, he's a Texan. So when the Saints travel to Houston his season for a regular-season game on Nov. 29, Polk figures to be on the field as a returner, attempting to wreak havoc against New Orleans' kick coverage teams.
Photos of C.J. Spiller at 2015 New Orleans Saints Organized Team Activities.