Many happy returns: Special teams speedsters have a leg up

As Steve Smith, Wes Welker and DeSean Jackson continue to light it up on Sundays, a growing number of scouts are trolling college campuses looking for pass catchers that possess the dynamic playmaking ability shared by that trio.

Whereas some receivers in the league are exceptional pass catchers or phenomenal route runners, the common thread that separates this threesome from the rest is that they all entered the league as accomplished return men.

Smith, Welker and Jackson were regarded among the best returners in the college game during their final seasons, and their ability to make plays in the kicking game continued when they reached the NFL. Each earned kudos as rookies for their ability to return punts, and those outstanding running skills have served them well as receivers.

Although possessing exceptional return skills doesn't guarantee a player can emerge as a top receiving threat, it does guarantees that a receiver has a chance to develop into a big-play threat due to his spectacular running ability in the open field. The pro game is slowly being impacted by the influx of spread offense elements such as the bubble screen and fly sweep, and offensive coordinators are increasingly using their most explosive weapons to handle those plays. Therefore, it is becoming a necessity to have at least one receiver with those electrifying skills in the lineup.

In looking at the 2010 draft class, scouts are salivating over the impending arrival of a few top receivers with dynamic return skills.

Clemson's Jacoby Ford, Texas' Jordan Shipley and Cincinnati's Mardy Gilyard headline a crew of talented playmakers that have terrorized the college game with their explosive skills as receivers/returners.

Ford, who is the reigning ACC 100-meter sprint champion, has captivated the minds of scouts blinded by his world-class speed. Although the Tigers' speedster has only tallied 39 receptions this season, his 14.1 yards-per-catch average and four receiving scores indicate his big-play potential. Additionally, Ford has tallied two scores on punt returns during his career, including a 61-yard score this season.

Scouts are undoubtedly smitten by Shipley's exceptional all-around game. He ranks fifth in the country in receiving yards (1,096), sixth in receptions (81) and third in punt return yards (303). While those numbers validate his ranking as one of the top all-purpose players in the game, it has been his electrifying running skills and open-field talents - as evidenced in his two punt-return touchdowns this season -- that have scouts singing his praises. Teams can easily envision him duplicating his success on the next level.

Gilyard may not have earned recognition on the national level, but Big East opponents are all too familiar with his game-changing skills. The 2008 Big East Special Teams Player of the Year has continued to torment opponents with his all-around game. Gilyard has hauled in 68 receptions for 930 yards (13.7 avg.) and eight scores while continuing to excel as a kick returner. Though he has yet to register a return score this season, scouts are well aware of his dangerous potential in the kicking game. With his receiving skills starting to catch up to his return game, it is a given that Gilyard ranks as one of the best all-purpose weapons at the position.

As the presence of a dual threat at receiver continues to become the rage in the pro game, you can rest assured that scouts are pushing a handful of multi-purpose players up draft boards across the league.

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