Spring football has started for most teams and we are one step closer to finishing our reviews of each position group from the 2022 Mountain West football season. Last week, we took a look at the kickers and punters in the conference. This week we will review the top defensive line groups. With that being said, let’s take a look back at the top return units in the Mountain West.
The Bulldogs had far and away the best return units in the conference. They finished second in kickoff return average and first in punt return average. Nikko Remigio was the best punt returner in the conference, averaging 19.9 yards per return and scoring two touchdowns, including one in the conference championship game.
I was a little surprised to see where the Broncos stood in return average. Over the course of the season, it seemed that they lacked explosiveness. Inserting Kaiden Dudley as the primary kickoff return late in the season helped the Broncos finish with the best kickoff return average in the conference. Punt returner was a bit of a revolving door, Stefan Cobbs struggled to field kicks and George Holani battling injuries led to Lattrell Caples becoming the primary punt returner.
The Lobos were the tale of two sides. They had the best kickoff returner in the conference in Christian Washington who averaged nearly 27 yards per attempt, including a 100 yard return for a touchdown. The Lobos weren’t so great returning punts where they averaged only 6.5 yards per return.
The Rebels may not have scored any touchdowns on special teams, but they were consistent and productive. UNLV average 21 yards per kickoff return (fourth in the conference) and seven yards per punt return (fifth in the conference).
San Diego State
Sure the Aztecs are in the “Good” category, but I would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little surprised that they didn’t finish higher in punt and kick return average (they finished sixth in both categories). With Jordyn Byrd as the primary return man, I thought the Aztecs would have far and away the best return game in the conference.
Most years I would look at the Aggies return statistics and consider them subpar. However, the Mountain West did not have the dynamic returners they usually have. The Aggies finished in the top half of the conference in both kick and punt return average, good enough to land them in this category.
If we are looking at the conference as a whole, Nevada was pretty average in the return game and you could make a strong argument to put them in the “Good” category. I placed them here because they narrowly missed, averaging 20 yards per kickoff return. Bentlee Sanders had some decent punt returns but failed to break free for a touchdown.
The Cowboys take a very safe approach in the return game, meaning they don’t return a lot of kicks. So this ranking is based off of the small sample size that we have from the 2022 season. The Cowboys were solid on kickoff returns, averaging over 20 yards per return. However, they were among the worst in the conference in returning punts, averaging less than five yards per return.
San Jose State
Looking through return stats for the Spartans,one thing was apparent: nothing stood out. The team was below average in both punt and kickoff return average, and they didn’t have many explosive returns. They also avoided big mistakes in the return game, which is a plus.
The Rams had the second best punt returner in the conference in Tory Horton, but they had massive struggles returning kicks. The Rams finished tenth in the conference in kick returns, averaging only 16 yards per return.
For a team with many weaknesses, it is important to find explosive plays in the return game. But you could make a strong case that the Rainbow Warriors had the worst return unit in the conference. Hawaii finished eleventh in the conference in both kick and punt return average.
Never a huge strength for the Falcons, the return game was a huge weakness for this squad. The Falcons returned only five kicks and four punts; they are big fans of the fair catch.
Which team in the Mountain West had the best return units? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.