Around the Big 12: Kick and Punt Returners

Wilson continues the Around the Big 12 series, and now takes a look at the kick and punt returners. Who does he believe has the best in the Big 12?

1. Oklahoma State- Junior defensive back/kick returner Justin Gilbert showed that he was one of the nations premier kick returners last year in a breakout season.  Gilbert returned 26 kickoffs with 703 yards and took two of them back for a touchdown.  The junior had the Big 12's highest kickoff return yards per game last year with 27.04.


2. West Virginia- Tavon Austin was one of the most versatile players in the nation last year and this year should be no different.  On top of being one of the team's best receivers, he also had a great year of kickoff returns.  Austin returned 36 kickoffs for 938 yards and two touchdowns. 


3. Texas Tech- Ben McRoy showed that he has some of the best speed in the nation when it comes to kick off returns as he had 899 return yards while averaging around 25 yards per return.  If McRoy can improve his balance and keep his body in sync with his legs next year, he could really make some noise on kickoff returns and will put the Red Raiders in good field position on almost all of his returns. 


4. Iowa State- Sophomore wide receiver Jarvis West only returned 22 kickoffs last year but he had 571 returning yards and showed with some more experience, he could be a real threat in 2012.  If West gets more opportunities next year, look for him to take a few kickoffs back for a touchdown as the 5'7" sophomore has speed and is hard to tackle.  Senior wide receiver Josh Lenz also contributed with 525 return yards on 24 attempts last year.  This duo of talented kick returners could greatly help field position for the Cyclones in 2012.


5. Kansas State- Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Lockett returned just 16 kickoffs, but had 563 yards for a return average of 35.2 yards and he took two back for touchdowns.  With some experience under his belt, Lockett could develop into one of the better kick returners in the Big 12 in 2012. 



6. Oklahoma- Junior wide receiver Trey Franks returned 22 kickoffs for 525 yards in 2011.  Franks showed signs of being a real talent at kick returner last year and will likely get more kickoffs his way next year.  Like Iowa State's Jarvis West, Franks will improve next year as he will be more experienced and should get more action in 2012.


7. Kansas- Although senior wide receiver D.J. Beshears kick return yardage of 1014 led the Big 12 last year, he did so on 49 attempts.  Beshears averaged 20.7 yards per return in 2011.  This is no knock on Beshears returning ability, but he did get more attempts than any other Big 12 kick returner.  It's likely he won't get as many touches as a returner next year, but he could improve his yards per return in 2012.


8. Baylor- Sophomore wide receiver Antwan Goodley fielded a portion of kickoff returns for the Bears last year and looked good in the 19 kickoffs that came his way.  Goodley had 451 return yards in 2011 and will look to improve on his 23 yards per carry that he averaged last season. 


9. Texas- The loss of experienced kick returner Foswhitt Whittaker hurts the Longhorns special teams when it comes to returning kicks.  Sophomore cornerback Quandre Diggs will do his best to replace Whittaker in 2012.  Diggs returned 19 kickoffs for 371 yards in 2011 and averaged just 19.5 yards per kickoff.  The Longhorns will need Diggs to improve to have a solid return game in 2012. 


10.  TCU- Similarly to Texas, TCU will lose kick return specialist Greg McCoy and will be searching for his replacement in 2012.  Junior running back Waymon James had just nine kick return attempts for 222 yards and an average of 24.7 yards per return in 2011.  The Horned Frogs will also need James to step up and be their go to kick returner in 2012.


Punt Returners:


1.  West Virginia- Just as he is a great kickoff returner, versatile wide receiver Tavon Austin could very well be the Big 12's best punt returner next year.  Austin returned 33 punts for 268 yards in 2011 and looks to improve even more in 2012.


2. Texas- Although he wasn't ranked high on his kickoff return abilities, speedy cornerback Quandre Diggs did impress in 2011 when it came to his punt return skills.  Diggs returned 23 punts for 181 yards for an average of 7.9 yards per punt return.  As he's only a sophomore, it's easy to see that Diggs will be an asset for the Longhorns on special teams in years to come.  The Longhorns other option is sophomore wide receiver Jaxon Shipley who returned 17 punts for 42 yards and will have more experience in 2012.


3.  TCU- Sophomore wide receiver Brandon Carter returned 12 punts for 137 yards and an impressive 11.4 yards per punt return.  Carter will likely see more action next year and looks to be a promising returner for TCU in 2012.  The Horned Frogs also have senior wide receiver Skye Dawson who returned 13 kickoffs for 59 yards in 2011.


4. Kansas State- Junior wide receiver Tremaine Thompson returned 19 punts for 123 yards in 2011.  Thompson's 6.5 yards per punt return isn't overly impressive, but he will have a chance to improve and with his reported sub 4.4 forty yard dash time, the speedy wide receiver could break away for longer punt returns in 2012.


5. Baylor- Sophomore wide receiver Levi Norwood had only 11 punt return attempts, but had 99 yards and 5.8 yards per return.  Norwood will need to improve on his numbers to give the Bears a punt-returning weapon in 2012.


6. Texas Tech- Senior wide receiver Austin Zouzalik isn't the flashiest of punt returners, but he isn't mistake prone and is sure handed as a returner.  Zouzalik returned 21 punts for 76 yards last year and will look to add to his yardage in 2012 as a senior.  Junior wide receiver Eric Ward returned one punt for seven yards in 2011 and could possibly emerge as an option for punt returner in 2012.


7. Kansas- Senior wide receiver D.J. Beshears returned 17 punts for 71 yards in 2011.  Similarly to Texas Tech's Austin Zouzalik, Beshears isn't a flashy returner but is dependable and can improve during his senior season next year.


8.  Iowa State- Senior wide receiver Josh Lenz didn't have a good year of punt returning in 2011 as he returned 33 punts for just 68 yards.  Lenz will need to improve dramatically if the Cyclones want to see decent field position in 2012.  The Cyclones have another option with senior wide receiver Aaron Horne who returned eight punts for 53 yards.


9.  Oklahoma- The Sooners will need to find an answer at the punt returning position in 2012.  Junior wide receiver Kenny Stills returned 19 punts for 38 yards last year which comes out to just two yards per punt return. 


10. Oklahoma State- Much like the Sooners, Oklahoma State won't have any experience at the punt returning position in 2012.  The Cowboys return their leading punt returner Josh Stewart and besides him, lose their other two players with any punt returning experience Justin Blackmon and Colton Chelf.  Spring, summer and fall workouts will produce someone as a viable second option as a punt returner, but as of now we don't clearly know who it will be. 

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