August 13, 2006

Ginn, Breaston lead pack of top return men

It's the Ted Ginn-Steve Breaston show again in the Big Ten, where the two veterans from rival schools are among the top kick and punt returners in the country.

In 2005, both players' production dipped a bit from the previous year - when each set school records in the return game. But the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry remains the home of the two most electrifying return men in the country.

Veterans lead the pack with seniors Quinton Jones of Boise State and Terry Richardson of Arizona State rounding out the top four.

Several freshmen, though, turned in top performances in the return game last year. Arkansas' Felix Jones, North Carolina's Brandon Tate, Oregon's Jonathan Stewart and UCF's Joe Burnett all made our top 10 as sophomores.

Here is the complete list of 2006's top return specialists: 2006 Preseason Top Return Specialists
1. Ted Ginn, Ohio State, Jr., 6-0, 175
Ginn is a game-breaker and could have even more of an impact this season without sharing return duties with first-round draft pick Santonio Holmes. His average of 29.6 yards per kickoff return was fourth in the country and included a 100-yard touchdown against Minnesota. As a freshman, he led the Big Ten with four punts returned for touchdowns and a 25.6-yard average. He does need to work on ball security after fumbling seven times last season.
2. Steve Breaston, Michigan, Sr., 6-1, 178
With 28.1 yards per kickoff return and 12.3 yards per punt return, Breaston appeared in the national top 25 in both categories last year. He is already Michigan's career leader in punt returns. He is second in kickoff returns and second in Big Ten history in career punt return yards. He'll have many opportunities to improve on those numbers even though opponents have punted away from him the last two years (45 punt returns in 2003, 24 in '04, 29 in '05).
3. Quinton Jones, Boise State, Sr., 5-9, 177
With three punt returns for touchdowns, Jones finished last year tied with UCLA's Maurice Drew and Florida State's Willie Reid for the national lead. Two of his TDs were for more than 90 yards. His big returns also came against some of Boise State's toughest competition. He had a 92-yard punt return for a TD against Boston College and 118 kickoff return yards against Oregon State. He finished second in the country in punt return average (20.86 yards).
4. Terry Richardson, Arizona State, Sr., 6-1, 187
Along with Breaston, Richardson was among the top 25 nationally in both kickoff (27.3 yards) and punt return average (15.3 yards). He had three games of 100 or more yards on kickoff returns, but his biggest special teams play was a 71-yard punt return for a touchdown to tie Arizona in the fourth quarter. The Sun Devils eventually won 23-20. He also returned a punt 84 yards for a touchdown last season against Southern California.
5. Felix Jones, Arkansas, So., 6-0, 195
The true freshman was second in the nation with 31.9 yards per kickoff return while sharing duties with starting running back Darren McFadden. The pair of freshmen helped Arkansas lead the nation in kickoff returns with 29.2 yards per return. His kickoff return average was almost seven yards better than the previous school record. His season included a 100-yard return for a touchdown against Mississippi State.
6. Rafael Little, Kentucky, Jr., 5-11, 195
In addition to leading the Wildcats in rushing and receiving, Little is also the SEC's best punt returner. He averaged 16.9 yards per return in 2005. His 57-yard return against Vanderbilt set up Kentucky's second touchdown in a 48-43 win. He added a 99-yard kickoff return for a score against Idaho State. The Wildcats ended the season third in the nation in punt returns and fourth in kickoff returns.
7. Brandon Tate, North Carolina, So., 6-1, 185
A Freshman All-American, Tate tied for second in the ACC in kickoff returns (25.8 yards per return) behind N.C. State's Darrell Blackman. He was also third in punt returns (9.2 yards). He jump-started North Carolina's win over Utah with a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and set a school record with an avereage of 49.7 yards per return.
8. Jonathan Stewart, Oregon, So., 5-11, 234
All Stewart did as a true freshman was lead the country with 33.7 yards per kickoff return. His average was helped by an 83-yard touchdown against Montana and a 97-yard score against Oregon State. Coming out of high school, Stewart was rated the No. 10 prospect in the country and the top running back by This season, he will also carry the load as Oregon's starting running back.
9. Darrell Blackman, N.C. State, Jr., 5-10, 209
In 2005, Blackman led the ACC and was sixth in the country in kickoff returns with a 29.1-yard average. As a freshman in 2004 he led the conference in punt returns (17.8 yards in 2005). His 28.4-yard career kickoff return average and 10.2-yard punt return average are first and eighth, respectively in N.C. State history. He was's second-team All-American kickoff returner at the end of 2005.
10. Joe Burnett, UCF, So., 5-11, 180
A Freshman All-American, Burnett was sixth in the nation and first in Conference USA with a 16.5-yard punt return average. He returned one put 58 yards for a TD against Rice and scored on a 68-yard return against Tulsa. He was the only freshman on the All-Conference USA first team. He was mentioned as both a returner and a cornerback (five interceptions in 2005).
Best of the rest
11. Aaron Ross, Texas, Sr., 6-1, 192
12. Tom Zbikowski, Notre Dame, Sr., 5-11, 208
13. Jessie Henderson, SMU, So., 5-9, 175
14. Terrence Nunn, Nebraska, Jr., 6-0, 185
15. Tim Mixon, California, Sr., 5-10, 180
16. Willie Foster, Rutgers, Sr., 5-10, 170
17. Antonio Lewis, West Virginia, Jr., 5-10, 190
18. Scott Mayle, Ohio, Sr., 6-1, 175
19. Kevin Robinson, Utah State, Jr., 6-0, 185
20. DeAndre Jackson, Iowa State, Sr., 6-0, 192

More Preseason Player Rankings:
Quarterbacks | Running backs | Offensive linemen | Return Specialists | Kickers/Punters

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