College football: 7 return men to keep an eye on in 2016
There is nothing in college football quite like a kickoff or punt returned for a touchdown.
It's arguably one of the biggest momentum-shifting plays in college sports, but some would argue that the return game is an oft-overlooked aspect in today's day and age.
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This group of return men features some of the most dynamic players in the game, and with the season just a few short weeks away you can bet these names are itching to get their hands on the pigskin.
Rodney Adams — senior, wide receiver, South Fla. (29.1 yards per return average, one touchdown)
Adams will likely be called upon to be a heavy feature in the Bulls offense this season, especially coming off a year where he more than doubled the receiving yardage of the next closest wideout.
That said, it’s hard to imagine his role in the return game increasing much at all, but Adams has shown a knack for making big plays when he gets the ball.
Nine receiving touchdowns a year ago is certainly something to hang one’s hat on, but Adams was also one of just three players in the conference to take a kick back for six. If the Bulls are to get back to another bowl game in 2016, Adams will likely figure heavily in that equation on both offense and special teams.
Evan Berry —junior, defensive back, Tennessee (38.3 yards per return average, three touchdowns)
People in college football circles might know Evan Berry because of his older brother (Eric Berry, DB for the Kansas City Chiefs) and his time with the Volunteers, but you should get to know the young blood in his own right.
His three kickoff return scores last year tied the school’s single-season record, a record that has been in place since 1980. And his 38.3 yards per return average set a new record for a single season in Knoxville.
Some might even say he has a shot at the single-season FBS kickoff return touchdown record — five TDs by Tulsa’s Ashlan Davis in 2004 —but Berry would likely sacrifice a few scores for another chance at a bowl game in 2016.
As the nation's leading kickoff return man by average yardage last year, Berry has set a tough pace for him to keep up heading into this season’s campaign.
DeVon Edwards — senior, defensive back, Duke (29.2 yards per return average, three touchdowns)
Duke’s defensive back was the most prolific returner in ACC play last year, and one of only two return men to take a kick back to the house (along with NC State’s Nyheim Hines).
But as one of 10 seniors on this Blue Devils defense, Edwards will likely need to focus a bit more of his attention on scheme and leadership duties this season. Nonetheless, Edwards' veteran savvy could come in handy in matchups with high-profile opponents — both on defense and in the kicking game.
That said, head coach David Cutcliffe is probably happy that Edwards is in his corner and not on the other sideline.
Rashaad Penny — junior, running back, San Diego State (33.5 yards per return average, three touchdowns)
Penny was the kickoff return leader in the Mountain West Conference last year by a wide margin, reaching the endzone on three occasions himself compared to four scores for the rest of the conference. He also managed to squeeze a 100-yard kickoff TD into the Aztecs’ 42-7 drubbing of Cincinnati in the Hawaii Bowl.
Following an undefeated run through the conference in 2016, the Aztecs could be primed for another banner year. However, a new quarterback at the helm could stand to benefit from a bump in the field position game. In Week Two the Aztecs will host Cal, which would be quite the opportunity for Penny to make an impact.
Dishan Romine — senior, running back, Navy (27.3 yards per return average)
Romine was one of the more productive players in the American Athletic Conference in the kickoff return game last year, but the departure of Midshipmen quarterback Keenan Reynolds and starting running back Chris Swain throws a bit of wrench in that scenario heading in 2016.
Swain and Reynolds accounted for nearly 500 carries last season, so Romine may be called into duty with the first team more often this year. However, his shiftiness and ability to dodge tacklers in open space are telltale signs of a player that would thrive with increased opportunities to return kicks.
Argeros Turner — senior, wide receiver, Northern Illinois (26.2 yards per return average, two touchdowns)
A pair of seniors (Argeros Turner and Kenny Golladay) return on offense for the Huskies this year, which should mean some big plays in the passing game, but the impact on the special teams side of the equation remains to be seen.
In 2016, Turner made a name for himself with two return touchdowns — including one in the Poinsettia Bowl Game against Boise State (a 55-7 rout at the hands of the Broncos) — but his reps at returner could take a hit depending on his load in the NIU offense.
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It wouldn’t be crazy though if Turner recaptured his MAC Special Teams Player of the Year honors in 2016, especially given that only one other player in the conference had a return touchdown.
Tim White — senior, wide receiver, Arizona State (27.0 yards per return average, one touchdown)
The rising senior from Santa Clarita, Calif., had made a name for himself in the Sun Devils offense on both special teams and with his work as a receiver (57 catches, 633 yards and eight TDs).
However, White is the only receiver returning to Tempe that tallied more than 50 receptions last year. Odds are White will be featured more heavily as a receiver in his final year at school, but when coach Todd Graham does put him back there watch out.