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Devin Hester tops ATL's kick returner rankings

So far, we have ranked the top running backs, inside linebackers, outside linebackers, tight ends, defensive tackleswide receivers and defensive ends in the league. This week, we turn our attention to the NFL's best kick returners.

Instead of straight rankings, this format will feature tiers so as to be less arbitrary.

This is not a fantasy football cheat sheet, nor is it an attempt to predict which players will finish with the best statistics this season. The premise is which kick returner I would want for the 2013 season. Although statistics, scouting reports and other factors such as durability were considered, the criteria primarily is based on game film from the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

Double threats: Devin Hester, Trindon Holliday, Ted Ginn, Dwayne Harris, Jacoby Jones

Hester sealed the GOAT moniker by tying Hall of Famer Deion Sanders for most career regular season return scores in NFL history. Freed from wide receiver chores for the Chicago Bears, Hester is leading the league in kickoff return yards and is third in punt return average.

Holliday already has six return touchdowns in 18 regular-season and playoff games with the Denver Broncos. It's hard to believe the Colts were the only other team to put in a waiver claim on Holliday when the Texans set him free last October.

Ginn has yet to find the end zone on a return this season, but he's contributing on offense for the first time in a half-decade. ... Harris has shown Pro Bowl form as both a returner and a gunner this season. ... Jones gets the benefit of the doubt after his sterling 2012 Ravens season.

Premier kickoff returners: Cordarrelle Patterson, Quintin Demps, Marcus Thigpen, Keshawn Martin

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Patterson has been the NFL's most explosive kickoff returner this season, averaging nearly 40 yards per touch on special teams with the Vikings. ... Watching Demps stick and move this season with the Chiefs leaves one wondering why he returned just 11 kicks over the previous four seasons.

Back in 2010, Thigpen became first player in CFL history to score touchdowns five different ways in the same season (punt return, kickoff return, missed field goal return, running, receiving). He's now one of the NFL's most effective returners for the Dolphins. ... Martin has taken a bit of the sting out of the Texans' loss of Holliday.

Premier punt returners: Travis Benjamin, Julian Edelman, Dexter McCluster, Golden Tate, Patrick Peterson, T.Y. Hilton, Tandon Doss

Benjamin merits the top spot for his Browns franchise record-breaking performance in Week 5 versus the Bills. He's leading the NFL in punt-return average. ... Edelman is the active leader in punt-return average -- and a surprising fourth all-time.

McCluster turned in the most exciting return of the season on an 89-yarder in Week 4. ... Tate and Doss have adopted well to their new roles this season. ... Peterson and Hilton remain two of the most dangerous players in the league with the ball in their hands.

Waiting to break a big one: Tavon Austin, Darren Sproles, Jacoby Ford, Darius Reynaud, Brandon Tate, Antonio Brown


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Austin is averaging a disappointing 18.3 yards per kickoff return and 4.2 yards per punt return for the Rams, but he's had back luck with penalties. ... Sproles isn't quite the return threat that he was with the Chargers. ... Reynaud hasn't been able to duplicate last season's success. It doesn't help that he was cut by the Titans this week... Brown is concentrating more on offense as the No. 1 receiver this season.

Best of the rest: Eric Page, Josh Cribbs, Jeremy Kerley, Deonte Thompson, Damaris Johnson, Marquise Goodwin, Marcus Sherels, Felix Jones, David Reed

Cribbs is one of the greatest special teamers in NFL history, but he started the season on his couch due to a bum knee. His first action with the Jets last week was encouraging. ... Goodwin showed off his Olympic speed with a 107-yard touchdown in the preseason opener.

Trainer's room: Percy Harvin, David Wilson

A healthy Harvin is the most dangerous kickoff returner in the league. Wilson isn't far behind.

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