Top 5 New Orleans Saints Kick Returners Of All-Time
Who are the top 5 kick returners in the history of the New Orleans Saints?
Yesterday, we unveiled the five best placekickers in franchise history.
Today, we stay with special teams.
1)—MICHAEL LEWIS—The “Beer Man” played for the Saints for 6 years, from 2001-2006. Lewis holds the franchise record for kick return yards (5,903) and punt return yards (1,482), while returning three kickoff for touchdown, and one punt for a score. A 2002 Pro Bowl selection, Lewis set an NFL record for combined kick-punt return yardage that season, with 2,432 yards total (1,807 kickoff, 625 punt). Lewis, a former beer delivery drive who did not play college football, was signed by the Saints after playing semi-pro and indoor football for the likes of the New Orleans Thunder and New Orleans VooDoo.
2)—TYRONE HUGHES—Hughes attended St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, where he was named Louisiana offensive player of the year and the athlete of the year, before playing his college football at Nebraska. A 5th round selection by the Saints in the 1993 NFL Draft, Hughes made the Pro Bowl in his rookie season of 1993. In 1994, in a win against the Los Angeles Rams, he set the NFL record for most kickoff return yards in a single-game (304) and the most combined kickoff/punt return yards in a game (347). He also had 2 kick off returns for touchdowns that same game which tied another NFL record. Hughes led the league in number of kickoff returns and return yards from 1994 to 1996. As a rookie, he led the NFL in punt return yards (503) and punt return average (13.6). Hughes left as the franchise career record holder for kickoff return yards (5,717), punt return yards (1,060) and 5 touchdown returns, while also finishing with 67 tackles, 4 interceptions and 4 fumble recoveries. In 2015, Hughes was inducted into the New Orleans Saints Hall of Fame. In 4 seasons with the Saints (1993-1996), Hughes averaged 25.0 yards per kickoff return, and 9.1 yards per punt return.
3)—DARREN SPROLES—He only played for the Saints for three seasons (2011-2013), but he provided some exciting moments in the return game. Sproles ranks 8th on the team’s all-time kickoff return yardage list (1,827), and 5th on the punt return yardage list (671), but ranks #1 in kickoff yards per return (26.1), with a minimum of 50 returns, and 6th in punt return yards per return (8.1), with a minimum of 50 returns.
4)—MEL GRAY—Gray, like Sproles, only played for the Saints for three seasons (1986-1988), but provided a lot of excitement. He ranks 6th in team history in kickoff return yards (2,172) and 6th in punt return yards (657).
5)—REGGIE BUSH—Bush, who played 5 seasons for the Saints (2006-2010), is low on the list because he was primarily a punt returner. As a matter of fact, Bush only returned one kickoff during his career in New Orleans. So, he had to make up for it in the punt return game, which he did, returning 4 punts for touchdowns, which is a franchise record. Bush ranks 4th in all-time punt return yards (720) in team history.
I had a hard time leaving Rich Mauti off the list. He payed 8 seasons for the Saints (1977-1983), and was very steady in the return game. Mauti ranks third in team history in kickoff return yards (2,836) and 7th in punt return yards (610). If there was a category strictly for special teamers, he’d likely make the list.
Courtney Roby, Fred McAfee, and Eric Guliford also deserve mention, although Guliford only played two seasons for the Saints, and my minimum criteria is three years.