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Alabama Roots: Top 10 in NFL kickoff-return yards


The injury statistics that caused the kickoff to be called essentially the most dangerous play in football prompted the NFL to adopt rules in recent seasons to attempt to make the play safer.

One other thing probably made safer by the foundations is Speedy Duncan’s hold on the highest spot for profession kickoff-return yards amongst NFL players from Alabama high schools and colleges.







The reduction within the variety of kickoff returns within the NFL has been sharp in response to the foundations. In 2000 and 2010, the common NFL team had 65.8 and 63.5 kickoff returns, respectively. In 2000, the common team had 1,442.8 kickoff-return yards. In 2010, that average was 1,419.4.

But in 2021, the common NFL team returned 34.4 kickoffs for 763.2 yards.

While Alabama has produced players who’re near the highest in NFL history in several major statistical categories, kickoff-return yards is just not one in every of the state’s strong suits. Duncan was an all-star returner, but his kickoff-return yardage ranks forty ninth on the league’s all-time list.

Despite the downturn in kickoff-return opportunities, two players among the many state’s top 10 in profession kickoff-return yards are currently within the NFL – Las Vegas Raiders running back Ameer Abdullah and Houston Texans cornerback Tremon Smith.

The most effective kickoff-return average for players with Alabama roots who’ve had at the least 75 returns (the minimum standard for the NFL record book) belongs to Leodis McKelvin at 26.0 yards.


Washington Redskins cornerback Speedy Duncan returns a kick during an NFL game against the St. Louis Cardinals on Oct. 15, 1972, in St. Louis.Clifton Boutelle/Getty Images

The ten players from Alabama high schools and colleges who’ve essentially the most kickoff-return yards include:

1. Speedy Duncan, Druid High School in Tuscaloosa: 4,539 kickoff-return yards

San Diego Chargers 1964-1970, Washington Redskins 1971-1974: The cornerback averaged 25.2 yards on 180 kickoff returns. Duncan was a Pro Bowler 4 times, including three years when he was a starting cornerback. While Duncan returned 4 punts and three interceptions for touchdowns, he never had a kickoff-return TD, although he had one which he ran back 91 yards.

2. Dwight Stone, Florala High School: 3,927 kickoff-return yards

Pittsburgh Steelers 1987-1994, Carolina Panthers 1995-1998, Recent York Jets 1999-2000: The wide receiver averaged 21.1 yards on 186 kickoff returns. Stone returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown against the Houston Oilers on Dec. 4, 1988.

3. David Palmer, Jackson-Olin High School in Birmingham, Alabama: 3,274 kickoff-return yards

Minnesota Vikings 1994-2000: The wide receiver averaged 22.6 yards on 145 kickoff returns. Palmer returned a kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens on Dec. 13, 1998.

4. Ameer Abdullah, Homewood High School: 2,944 kickoff-return yards

Detroit Lions 2015-2018, Minnesota Vikings 2018-2021, Carolina Panthers 2021: The running back has averaged 25.4 yards on 116 kickoff returns. As a rookie in 2015, Abdullah led the NFL with 37 kickoff returns and 1,077 kickoff-return yards. He had a 104-yard kickoff return in 2015 that didn’t lead to a touchdown, tying a record for the longest non-scoring play in NFL history.

5. James Brooks, Auburn: 2,762 kickoff-return yards

San Diego Chargers 1981-1983, Cincinnati Bengals 1984-1991, Cleveland Browns 1992, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1992: The running back averaged 20.9 yards on 132 kickoff returns. Brooks led the NFL with 33 kickoff returns and 749 kickoff-return yards in 1982. Brooks was a four-time Pro Bowler as a running back.

6. Leodis McKelvin, Troy: 2,471 kickoff-return yards

Buffalo Bills 2008-2015, Philadelphia Eagles 2016: The cornerback averaged 26.0 yards on 95 kickoff returns. McKelvin returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown against the Cleveland Browns on Nov. 17, 2008.

7. Lionel James, Auburn: 2,278 kickoff-return yards

San Diego Chargers 1984-1988: The running back averaged 21.2 yards on 99 kickoff returns. “Little Train” led the NFL with 43 kickoff returns and 959 kickoff-return yards as a rookie in 1984.

8. Irving Spikes, Alabama: 2,058 kickoff-return yards

Miami Dolphins 1994-1997: The running back averaged 23.1 yards on 89 kickoff returns.

9. Tremon Smith, Saks High School: 1,906 kickoff-return yards

Kansas City Chiefs 2018-19, Green Bay Packers 2019, Indianapolis Colts 2020, Houston Texans 2021: The cornerback has averaged 25.4 yards on 75 kickoff returns. Smith was the kick returner on the Pro Football Writers of America’s All-Rookie team in 2018, when he averaged 26.8 yards on 33 returns. Last season, the previous highschool quarterback scored on a 98-yard kickoff return against the Jacksonville Jaguars on Dec. 19.

10. Brian Witherspoon, Choctaw County High School, Stillman: 1,890 kickoff-return yards

Jacksonville Jaguars 2008-2009, Detroit Lions 2009, Recent York Giants 2010: The cornerback averaged 23.6 yards on 80 kickoff returns.

Mark Inabinett is a sports reporter for Alabama Media Group. Follow him on Twitter @AMarkG1.

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