|Jerry Lai/US Presswire|
|Bears burner Devin Hester boasts a combined 17 return touchdowns in six NFL seasons, including three in 2011.|
Former NFL scout Daniel Jeremiah is getting into the Olympic mind-set early this summer, handing out NFL Podium Awards for the top three players at each position group. Keep in mind, this list is based on where these players are ranked heading into the 2012 season. Today, he takes on special teams weapons.
The NFL is loaded with talented special teams weapons. Cleveland Browns returner Josh Cribbs, San Francisco 49ers kicker David Akers and Oakland Raiders punter Shane Lechler all own NFL records, yet none of them earned a spot on the podium.
This pick is a no-brainer. Hester is the best returner in NFL history. He holds the record for most combined return touchdowns (17) and shows no signs of slowing down. Last season, he led the league in punt-return average (16.2), returned two punts for touchdowns and also added a kickoff return score. He has had some fumbling problems throughout his career, but the good far outweighs the bad in his overall performance and impact on the game.
Peterson is one of the most electrifying players to enter the NFL in the last few years. He has endless upside as a big, athletic cornerback, but he's already performing at an elite level in the return game. In his rookie season of 2011, he tied an NFL record by returning four punts for touchdowns. He finished second in the league with a 15.9-yard average on punt returns. Peterson possesses outstanding lateral quickness, explosiveness and elusiveness. Don't believe me? Check out his game-winning, 99-yard punt return against the Rams in Week 9.
Lee is coming off one of the best punting seasons in NFL history. The three-time All-Pro set a single-season record for net average (44.0), while his gross average (50.9) was good for third in league history. He constantly changes field position for the 49ers and keeps their vaunted defense from having to defend a short field. Lechler is also an excellent candidate in this category, but the consensus around the league is that Lee is currently a small step ahead.
Others considered: Josh Cribbs, PR/KR, Cleveland Browns; David Akers, K, San Francisco 49ers; Shane Lechler, P, Oakland Raiders; Sebastian Janikowski, K, Oakland Raiders; Joe McKnight, KR, New York Jets.
Follow Daniel Jeremiah on Twitter @MoveTheSticks.