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July 19, 2022

Ranking every Eagles kick/punt return man ever

Eagles NFL
Desean-Jackson-miracle-meadowlands-Eagles_071522_USAT Today Sports

A return for the ages...

With time ticking until the Eagles begin training camp, midweek next week, our sports staff had one last chance to randomly rank a position of players.

After knocking off the QBs, the RBs, the WRs, the DBs and the pass rushers, we thought it might be fun to rank something off the beaten path. If your team had one kickoff or punt to return at the end of a game, which Eagles return man would you want lining up in the defensive backfield?

We combed through the stats and history of the franchise and came up with 38 players — spanning every position from fullback to wideout to cornerback — who have had at least 50 official returns as a member of the Eagles. We then ranked them and averaged out the rankings amongst our staff to create the order of the rankings below.

1. DeSean Jackson (2008-2013, 19-20)

136 total returns | 4 PR TD | 9.8 PR avg | PR long: 85 yards | Pro Bowl returner

Shamus Clancy: DeSean Jackson is the man behind the greatest regular season play in Eagles history (NFL history?). Jackson is the most electric player to ever suit up for the Birds and his skill in the open field was such a breath of fresh air for an Eagles team starved for big-play ability at the end of the Donovan McNabb era. "I don't care if he jumps, dives, he's running around and he's in the end zone and there's no time and the Eagles win. THE EAGLES WIN!"

2. Brian Mitchell (2000-02)

117 total returns | 2 PR TD, 2 KR TD | 11.7 PR avg, 25.3 KR avg | KR long: 94 yards

Nick Tricome: Mitchell got to the Eagles late in his career, but still had plenty left in the tank. His 1,369 yards on punt returns are still the most in team history and his 3,311 on kickoff returns are second only to Timmy Brown (further down the list). He brought his return specialty to the Eagles just as they were  getting good, giving the other teams one more thing to worry about, especially the Atlanta Falcons

3. Darren Sproles (2014-19)

120 total returns | 4 PR TD | 11.7 PR avg | PR long: 89 yards | Pro Bowl returner

Evan Macy: I saw Nick had Sproles listed first on his list (I had him fourth on mine) and the more I thought about it and researched him for this post, the more I realized he might be deserving. Though he didn't have the Miracle at the Meadowlands on his resume, it was quite nice for the Eagles to have an automatic, no brainer effective return man for all those years they did. The current team certainly misses having that continuity.  

4. Timmy Brown (1960-67)

224 total returns | PR TD, 5 KR TD | 26.5 KR avg | KR long: 105 yards

Shamus: Timmy Brown might have the best pure stats of an Eagles returner ever. He certainly didn't play in an era where his TDs were cut up and ready for YouTube highlights, but taking 105-yard kick return back to the house is something special. 

5. Steve Van Buren (1944-51)

110 total returns | 2 PR TD, 3 KR TD | 13.9 PR avg, 26.7 KR avg | KR long: 98 yards

Nick: The Hall of Fame halfback who was crucial to the back-to-back titles in the late 40s also ran it back, owning the longest kickoff returns of the 1944 (97 yards), 1945 (98), and 1947 (95) seasons.

6. Brian Westbrook (2002-09)

62 total returns | 2 PR TD | 12.8 PR avg | PR long: 84 yards

Evan: Westbrook was kind of an under the radar effective return man — mostly punts — for the Eagles and was used in high leverage spots sort of like DeSean Jackson was years later. He brought two to the house and his 12.8 yards per punt return is the third best all time (of qualifying returners).

7. Derrick Witherspoon (1995-97)

80 total returns | 3 KR TD | 23.8 KR avg | KR long: 97 yards

Nick: Witherspoon was only around for a short bit, but he found a role as a return specialist. And if he saw a hole, it was off to the races

8. Vai Sikahema (1992-93)

129 total returns | PR TD | 10.7 PR avg | PR long: 87 yards

Shamus: Via Sikahema punching the Giants' goal post is perhaps the coolest touchdown celebration in franchise history.

9. Wally Henry (1977-82)

235 total returns | PR TD | 22.4 KR avg | PR long: 57 yards

Shamus: I couldn't find a video of Wally Henry's 1978 punt return touchdown for a 9-7 Eagles team that made the postseason for the first time in 18 years. That's a shame. "Wally" is an elite 1970s football name. 

10. Allen Rossum (1998-99)

103 total returns | KR TD | 24.8 KR avg | KR long: 89 yards

Shamus: Allen Rossum went on to greater heights with the Falcons, where he was a Pro Bowl returner in 2004, but he started his career in Philly. He was a bolt of lighting during his lone return touchdown with the Eagles. The Birds' special teams coordinator back then? John Harbaugh! 

The rest...

11 Billy CampfieldKR TD, 21.7 KR avg
12Reno Mahe21.4 KR avg
13Bosh PrichardKR, PR TD, 10.7 PR avg
14Al Nelson26.0 KR avg
15Tommy McDonaldPR TD, 20.7 KR avg
16Jerry NortonKR TD, 31.4 KR avg
17Irv Cross26.6 KR avg
18Ernie Steele14.7 PR avg
19Larry Marshall10.4 PR avg

Evan: Jerry Norton was an Eagle in the 50s and played running back, cornerback, punter and return man. In 1958 he wanted more money and the owners wouldn't pay him so he was traded to the Cardinals. Two years later the Eagles won the NFL championship. Why am I musing about him? Because old-timey-two way players are awesome.

Shamus: Reno Mahe, coincidentally, is related to Sikahema. Though he didn't match Vai as a returner, he was still relatively productive. During his time in midnight green, Mahe had a part-time job at Chickie's and Pete's at one point, much like everyone from South Philly. 

20Damarius Johnson98-yard PR TD
21Ted Dean22.4 KR avg
22J.R. Reed22.8 KR avg
23Al Pollard24.1 KR avg
24Billy Walik24.5 KR avg
25Kenjon Barner24.1 KR avg
26Brandon Boykin23.0 KR avg
27Jeff Snyder9.2 PR avg
28Bill Bradley7.9 PR avg

Evan: Johnson's TD was great, on national TV against the Cowboys. He plays Canadian football now.

Shamus: I was all in on Kenjon Barner during Chip Kelly's Oregon fetish era. 

29Bibbles BawelPR TD
30 Rod Harris8.2 PR avg
31Hal Giancanelli23.3 KR avg
32Evan Cooper7.6 PR avg
33Mark Seay9.8 PR avg
34Roderick Hood23.3 KR avg
35Ken Keller8.5 PR avg
36Jerry Williams24.5 KR avg
37Mark Konecny7.1 PR avg
38Dexter Wynn8.2 PR avg

Evan: Bibbles is another old timer who deserves a fun look. He was the MVP of the Refrigerator Bowl in 1949 and a rugby player who made the team after a try-out and left for a few years to serve in Korea. He would later go play rugby in Canada where he was tripped by a spectator en route to the title in 1957. Awesome.

Shamus: Just the names "Dexter Wynn" and "Roderick Hood" give me flashbacks to my dad yelling at the TV that the Eagles wasted roster spots not having good returners at that point in the Andy Reid era. 

Follow Evan on Twitter: @evan_macy

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