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August 28, 2011

Preseason top 20: Return specialists

We continue our breakdown of the nation's best players at each position with a look at the top 20 return men.

"Best" doesn't necessarily mean the most pro potential or even the most talent. Instead, it's a mix of what the player has accomplished and how we think the player will do this season. But production does trump potential.

We will look at a position a day until Monday, when we rank all 120 of the nation's quarterbacks. On Tuesday and Wednesday, we will have coach and coordinator rankings. Here are the return men rankings.

20. KR DENNIS JOHNSON, ARKANSAS
THE PARTICULARS: 5-9/213, Jr.; Texarkana (Ark.) Arkansas High
THE BUZZ: Because of the injury to Knile Davis, Johnson is in the running for Arkansas' starting tailback job. Johnson already has proven his worth as a kick returner. He suffered a bowel injury in Game 2 last season and missed the rest of the season, but he averaged 25.6 yards per return in 2009, with one for a TD. In 2008, he averaged 22.1 yards per return, with a TD. He is the SEC's active career leader in kickoff-return yards with 2,014.

19. KR TAVEON ROGERS, NEW MEXICO STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-0/188, Sr.; Antelope Valley College (Calif.), preceded by Lancaster (Calif.) High
THE BUZZ: New Mexico State's defense wasn't much last season, so Rogers received a lot of work as a kick returner - as in 52 returns. He averaged 27.1 yards per return and had eight games in which he had at least four returns. His 52 returns and 1,410 kickoff-return yards set school single-season records. He also is a starting wide receiver for the Aggies.

18. PR/KR KESHAWN MARTIN, MICHIGAN STATE
PARTICULARS: 5-11/189, Sr.; Inkster (Mich.) John Glenn
THE BUZZ: Martin - a reserve wide receiver - did a great job as a punt returner last season (14.2-yard average, one TD) but was barely adequate as a kickoff returner (17.8-yard average on 20 attempts). His performance in the latter role was a surprise, as he had averaged 28.9 yards on 23 kickoff returns, with one TD, in 2009. He has two return TDs in his career and owns career averages of 23.8 as a kickoff returner and 9.6 as a punt returner. He should handle both roles for the Spartans for the third season in a row.

17. KR KERWYNN WILLIAMS, UTAH STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 5-9/184, Jr.; Las Vegas Valley
THE BUZZ: He led the nation with 53 returns last season (one more than Taveon Rogers of WAC rival New Mexico State), two shy of the NCAA single-season record. Williams set an NCAA single-season record with 1,444 return yards, He averaged 27.3 yards per return and took one back for a TD, against Nevada. Williams, who averaged 25.1 yards per return as a true freshman in 2009, doubles as a tailback/slot receiver for the Aggies.

16. PR JOE ADAMS, ARKANSAS
THE PARTICULARS: 5-11/190, Sr.; Little Rock (Ark.) Central Arkansas Christian
THE BUZZ: After the season-ending injury to Greg Childs, Adams became the Razorbacks' top receiver, but that didn't cut into his special teams production. He ranked fifth nationally by averaging 15.6 yards per punt return. He had a 97-yard punt-return touchdown against Ole Miss.

15. KR JUSTIN GILBERT, OKLAHOMA STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 6-0/205, Soph.; Huntsville (Texas) High
THE BUZZ: Gilbert, who plays cornerback, led the Big 12 in kickoff-return average at 26.9 yards per attempt, with two touchdowns. His 89-yard return for a touchdown against Oklahoma briefly gave the Cowboys the lead in a wild fourth quarter in the Bedlam Game. He also scored on a 93-yard return against Baylor. He was one of nine players nationally with multiple return TDs.

14. KR NICK WILLIAMS, CONNECTICUT
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/185, Jr.; Princeton (N.J.) The Hun School
THE BUZZ: Williams, a wide receiver, led the nation and set a school record by averaging 35.3 yards per return, but on just 17 attempts. He made the most of his opportunities with returns for touchdowns against Pittsburgh (95 yards) and Rutgers (100 yards). He returned one kickoff - for 36 yards - as a true freshman in 2009.

13. KR LINDSEY LAMAR, USF
THE PARTICULARS: 5-9/168, Jr.; Tampa Hillsborough
THE BUZZ: The Big East special teams player of the year, Lamar averaged 26.4 yards on 34 returns. Lamar, a wide receiver, returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown against Louisville and another for 94 yards for a score against Syracuse.

12. KR DAVID WILSON, VIRGINIA TECH
PARTICULARS: 5-10/205, Jr.; Danville (Va.) George Washington
THE BUZZ: He was a second-team All-ACC selection as a return man last season, taking two kickoffs back for touchdowns. Wilson, an All-American triple jumper who doubles as the Hokies' starting tailback, averaged 26.5 yards per return on 22 kickoffs and scored against NC State and Georgia Tech.

11. KR BRANDON BOYKIN, GEORGIA
PARTICULARS: 5-10/183, Sr.; Fayetteville (Ga.) Fayette County
THE BUZZ: Boykin is the school career record-holder with 1,813 kickoff-return yards, and he's the only player in SEC history with three 100-yard plays of any kind (all kickoff returns). Boykin, who is a starting cornerback for the Bulldogs, averaged 24.3 yards per return last season; he has four career return touchdowns and possesses a 25.2-yard career average.

10. PR LaVON BRAZILL, OHIO
PARTICULARS: 5-11/191, Sr.; Lake Worth (Fla.) High
THE BUZZ: Brazill, a starting wide receiver for the Bobcats, is back after missing all but three games in 2010 because of a broken hand. Brazill has four career punt-returns touchdowns and averaged 13.5 yards per return in 2009, when he took back three for scores; he was the only player in the nation in '09 with three return touchdowns.

9. KR CHRIS OWUSU, STANFORD
THE PARTICULARS: 6-2/200, Jr.; Westlake Village (Calif.) Oaks Christian
THE BUZZ: Owusu, a starting wide receiver, has been bothered by injuries in two of his three college seasons, including missing seven games last season. Injuries limited him to 19 returns last season, and he averaged 24.3 yards per attempt. But in 2009, his only healthy season at Stanford, he was the nation's best kick returner. He had 37 attempts that season and averaged a sterling 31.7 yards per return, with three scores. He had an 88-yard return against USC last season but didn't score.

8. PR TONY LOGAN, MARYLAND
PARTICULARS: 5-10/180, Sr.; Piscataway (N.J.) High
THE BUZZ: A lightning-quick athlete who has a knack for making people miss, Logan - a backup wide receiver - paced the ACC and ranked third in the nation in punt returns with an 18.1-yard average last season. Logan's 560 yards on punt returns in 2010 was the second-highest single-season total in school and ACC history.

7. KR T.Y. HILTON, FLORIDA INTERNATIONAL
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/183, Sr.; Miami Springs High
THE BUZZ: Hilton, also a starting wide receiver for the Golden Panthers, is an explosive return man. He has returned a kickoff for a touchdown in three consecutive seasons and has four in his career. He also has one career punt-return TD - on his first college touch in 2008, against Kansas. He returned a kickoff for a score against Alabama in 2009. Hilton averaged 28.7 yards per kickoff return last season - the same average he had in 2009. He owns a 26.5-yard career average on kickoff returns and a 10.4-yard career average on punt returns.

6. KR TYRON CARRIER, HOUSTON
THE PARTICULARS: 5-8/170, Sr.; Houston Worthing
THE BUZZ: Carrier averaged 23.5 yards per kickoff return and returned one 91 yards for a score - and it still was a relatively disappointing season. That's because he had averaged 29.0 yards and returned four for scores in 2009. Carrier has six kickoff-return TDs in his career; the NCAA record is seven by former Clemson TB C.J. Spiller. Carrier's career average is 24.9 yards on 111 attempts.

5. KR QUINCY McDUFFIE, UCF
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/175, Jr.; Orlando Edgewater
THE BUZZ: He finished second in the nation in kickoff returns last season, averaging 32.2 yards on 27 returns. McDuffie, who again will be in the Knights' receiver rotation this fall, took back two for touchdowns, against NC State and Tulane. He averaged 24.2 yards per return as a true freshman in 2009, with one TD.

4. PR/KR GREG REID, FLORIDA STATE
THE PARTICULARS: 5-8/186, Jr.; Valdosta (Ga.) Lowndes County
THE BUZZ: After a great freshman season as a return man, Reid slipped a bit last season but sill averaged 10.1 yards per punt return - with a touchdown - and 23.9 yards per kickoff return. Reid, a starting corner for the Seminoles, has career averages of 13.5 on punt returns (with two scores) and 24.7 on kickoff returns.

3. KR ERIC PAGE, TOLEDO
THE PARTICULARS: 5-10/180, Jr.; Springfield (Ohio) High
THE BUZZ: Page, one of the most productive wide receivers in the nation, finished third nationally in kickoff returns last season with an average of 31.1 yards on his 28 attempts, and he led the nation with three return TDs. He wasn't used as a kickoff returner until the final three games of his true freshman season in 2009, and he averaged 25.4 yards per return that season

2. PR/KR DAMARIS JOHNSON, TULSA
THE PARTICULARS: 5-8/170, Sr.; Destrehan (La.) High
THE BUZZ: Johnson is a starting receiver for the high-powered Golden Hurricane, and he has 7,796 all-purpose yards, which already is an NCAA career mark. He also already holds the NCAA mark for career kickoff return yardage with 3,417. Last season, Johnson averaged 26.6 yards on kickoff returns and 12.7 yards on punt returns. He took two back for scores - one on a kickoff (against Rice) and one on a punt (against Notre Dame). He has four return TDs in his career, with two on kickoffs and two on punts; his career average on kickoff returns is 25.5 yards and his career average on punt returns is 12.1 yards. He was a four-star prospect out of high school in the New Orleans area.

1. PR CLIFF HARRIS, OREGON
THE PARTICULARS: 5-11/165, Jr.; Fresno (Calif.) Edison
THE BUZZ: Harris is a starting cornerback who has been suspended indefinitely, but he was phenomenal as a punt returner last season. He averaged 18.8 yards on 29 attempts and returned four for touchdowns in his first season in that role. His four touchdowns covered a combined 256 yards; his four TD returns alone were more than 84 teams totaled in punt-return yards.

Rankings and player capsules by Olin Buchanan, Tom Dienhart, David Fox, Mike Huguenin and Steve Megargee.

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