Eighth-Best NFL Punt Returner Is Jaelon Darden

October 11th, 2022

Damn, Joe is proud of the obvious improvement of Jaelon Darden on fourth downs.

Quietly, Darden ranks tied for eighth among NFL punt returns who have four or more returns this season, aka full-time returners.

His average of 11.1 yards per return is stellar. Most teams give returners of goal of 10 yards per return.

On Sunday, Darden had a sneaky good 24-yard return that showed strong vision and patience from deep in Bucs territory. His other return was a shifty 16-yarder.

Former Bucs return man Adam Humphries had a strong 2016 season at 9.9 yards per punt return, but his production as a returner fell off the next two years. Jaydon Mickens, Kenjon Barner and Antonio Brown combined to average 5.9 yards per punt return for the Bucs in 2020, and Darden was poor at 7 1/2 yards last season.

Enjoy The Ira Kaufman Podcast, presented by Bill Currie Ford. Ira Dives Into The Win Over The Falcons And What It All Means.

48 Responses to “Eighth-Best NFL Punt Returner Is Jaelon Darden”

  1. Winny Testaverde Says:

    He’s basically the younger version of Jaydong Mickens…which is ok. Myself and others expected more…and probably shouldn’t have. He’s not fast by NFL standards but was fast enough at North Texas to make some plays.

  2. Onetrickpony Says:

    Is this “fake news” ?

  3. Dooley Says:

    Oh some commenters are going to come into this thread with anger and disbelief, because a 2nd year 4th round pick is showing signs of improvement at a job he wasn’t doing often or at all during his college career **gasp**

  4. Casual Observer Says:

    That’s a bit hard to believe. But stats are stats. Until Joe reported this, I thought that his main returner strength was that he never fumbles a kick. Great hands. An asset not to be taken lightly but he has not impressed me with his running.

  5. Tampabaybucfan Says:

    I don’t want to jinx him but he looks to have sure hands….that’s the most important thing….catch the ball.

    I think he’s doing well considering our kickoff & punt blocking is lacking….

    Now let’s hope he can help as a WR also…

    GO JAELON!!!

  6. DoooshLaRue Says:

    Old Sidelines.

    We are so blessed.

  7. Nicholas Carlson Says:

    I think he’s solid. Not a lot of home run returns, but lots of 8 to 11 yarders

  8. Daniel Says:

    Worth noting he’s stepped out of bounds (smartly) a few times after catching one, so this average is higher in reality.

  9. Jonny Says:

    He’s developed some smooth feet during the off-season. He’s taking much smaller strides and making many more turns and cuts during running, churning 3-4 extra yards than could be had. I hope he gets some opportunities as a receiver as well. I think he’s capable of breaking ankles of opposing CBs.

  10. Thisisouryear!! Says:

    The kid looks great as a returner. He’s coming along as a receiver as well. I think he has all kinds of potential.

  11. D-Rok Says:

    He’s certainly looked much less hesitant this year vs. last year. Let’s hope he continues to grow and get better.

  12. Goatfarmer Says:

    He’s number 1 at finding the sideline after 8 yards and has proven that Zion McCollum has his back. And boy how about that one reception . Dude is a beast!

    I am waiting for a reason to eat the crow marked ‘DardOn.”

    Still waiting.


  13. Leighroy Says:

    I took notes on Darden’s returns. Non-graceful fair catch on first return, shied away from the ball on a fair catch for the 2nd return, negating catch interference and nearly causing a turnover on the ricochet, he also caught one punt at the 2 yard line and while he had a nice return the team was lucky we didn’t get flagged for holding.

    I thought stats were ruining the game and we were supposed to use our eyes?

  14. sasquatch Says:

    Intolerant, impatient “fans” were ready to kick this guy to the curb. More evidence that the front office knows what they’re doing and the reactionary gasbags who comment here are clueless.

  15. David Says:

    He has definitely been good but not spectacular. He seems very sure handed which is crucial. I would just really like to see him step it up in the passing game so he has more value.

  16. CrackWise Says:

    Generally speaking, there is no shame in the little fella ducking out of bounds just before taking a hit on the sidelines. NO REASON to risk a fumble or injury.

    And I don’t get why it is that big of a deal to go out of bounds when the return is set up to take him to the sidelines? Additionally, most of the kicks are to the sideline.

    I see it done this way all across the league.

    That said, how about giving him some constant running room to find daylight so we can see what he can really do. If any part of the coaching staff deserves criticism. IT SPECIAL TEAMS.

  17. AbucAway Says:

    Yeah right

  18. Don Ravenna Says:

    it was nice to see Darden actual run north and south! Those two returns sure helped his yds per return stats. Just MAYBE he won’t be known for the quickest time to the sideline after all?

  19. DoooshLaRue Says:


    He doesn’t ever run north and south…. east north east and west southwest at best.

  20. Rob In Land O Lakes Says:

    Once in a while though, I’d like to see him use his speed to try to go wide side and make something happen. Get just one cover guy to over commit, then you have a lane north and south.

  21. Joe in Michigan Says:

    Is he as bad (this year) as Goatfarmer makes him out to be? Probably not.

    Is he someone I’m going to stick up for, like Sissquatch does? No.

  22. Sheen Says:

    Other than fielding that punt at the 2 last Sunday it looks as though he’s made just about the right decision on punt returns this year. Our special teams as a whole has taken a step forward IMO…still not “special” by any means

  23. 1sparkybuc Says:

    Improvement is a good thing. Maybe more fans will root for his success now. Maybe not. I will, but I still would like to see what Thompkins can do as well.

  24. Goatfarmer Says:

    Sheen, the irony about him fielding that punt at the two is that he took it well past the 20, so, good decision on the net.

    Would I want to see him catch another one at the 2?


  25. Daryl Green Says:

    ? Can’t remember, when is last Time.
    Special Teams did something special.


  26. Mikadeemas Says:

    He still had one ( at least) he should have come up and fielded, but love the improvement. Well done, Dardin! GO BUCS!!

  27. Goatfarmer Says:

    Camarda kicked it out of bounds against the Chiefs on a kickoff? Maybe he thought the OB rules apply to kickoffs as well? Keith Armstrong probably teaches that.

  28. Rod Munch Says:

    I’m not a fan of Darden, but about halfway through last year when everyone here was complaining about him, I pointed out, at the time, he was literally a top 15 punt returner. Now he finished the season very poorly, and I’ll bet that happens again, but people don’t seem to understand the game has changed, and teams don’t seemingly care about the return game like they once did. Don’t know why, it seems the easiest way in football to gain field position.

  29. Smashsquatch Says:

    Can’t wait to see him make a house call. It’ll boost his confidence & courage big time. Would love to see him take it to the next level.

  30. D-Rok Says:

    I know, Rod, right? Take the league by storm by innovative special teams strategies, like housing a kick like Neon Deion. Or is that a lost breed in today’s NFL?

  31. D-Rok Says:

    I could swear that 20-30 years ago, there were much more kick or even punt returns for 6 vs these last 5 years. Make an emphasis on returns…it’s easy yards like Rod said.

  32. Cobraboy Says:

    Really, an indictment of the poor state of kick returns in the entire NFL.

  33. sasquatch Says:

    Joe in Michigan Says:
    October 11th, 2022 at 4:58 pm

    Is he someone I’m going to stick up for, like Sissquatch does? No.

    Sissquatch huh?… Has anyone ever told you you’re clever? No?… Yeah, there’s a reason why not.

  34. LakelandSteve Says:

    He’s had some decent returns but it seems like he is always looking to just run out of bounds. I know that’s better than to run one up in there get clobbered and fumble, but he’s never going to take one to the house by running out of bounds

  35. Ash Says:

    I’m enjoying his improvement and hope it continues rooting for him.

  36. 74 Bucs Fan Says:

    Rooting for him too, but will have my shot ready to drink when old Sidelines lives up to his handle.

    Try cutting inside, you might surprise yourself….. and all of us!

  37. Jack Sparrow Says:

    Lol !!!

  38. Maniac Buc Says:

    The crazy part is the film of the minimum reps that he’s got at receiver looks really good. He gets open a very high percentage of the time. His route running is excellent and his hands have already been really really good. Dude is a really good football player. I don’t understand the lack of reps at receiver. I prefer him over everyone not name Evans or Godwins.

    As for GoatFarmer, and his 3 year old behavior of calling people out of their name(You wouldn’t do that in my hood), he’s look better than Miller could dream to look.

  39. Dreambig Says:

    I have been a huge critic of Darden, until the opening kickoff against KC. Now I am happy to see him there. He might get tackled by a wayward pointing blade of grass but at least he has sure hands. For all the times he does not get many yards, he at least catches the ball and does not fumble.

  40. Dreambig Says:

    I would still rather see him let the ball go into the end zone and get the ball on the 25 than run it out and get tackled on the 19.

  41. Crickett Baker Says:

    From what I saw of Darden he has not in any way impressed me much. He has improved but that’s not a big enough one to warrant my trust. He still runs scared and it seems like he has NO interest in even attempting to make a big play.

  42. Goatfarmer Says:

    Maniac — your love of Darden is cute. You’re the only one that shares your opinion. Obviously your “inside intel” from your twatter friend on instagrain or whatever it was has it dialed right in to Tom Brady’s personal thinking. Since he targets your boy so often and all. Before shoving anymore holier than thou crap out, take a look at the hate you spew about a guy who obviously impresses coaches and teammates a lot more as a receiver than your boy. You know who it is. And you hate it. But keep acting all proper like. Meanwhile the next impact play your boy makes for the Bucs will be his first.

  43. Maniac Buc Says:

    Goatfarmer, Darden is by far safer on this roster than Scotty. He only plays when others are hurt. Darden will be here far longer than Scotty making impact plays. This time next year, Scotty will be flipping burgers right beside you. The one impact play Darden has made this is by far bigger than any play Scotty has made. Scotty is absolutely terrible. But then again, I wouldn’t expect somebody with the mind of a 3 year old to understand.

  44. kyle Says:

    rod munch^^ agree! when was the last time you saw a punt returned for a TD in the NFL? I cant remember? Its like teams just want to make sure they dont screw up and fumble the damn ball.

  45. Jgar Says:

    A stiff arm to pick up more yards! I feel sorry for whoever that was that he stiff armed. Sad. 😂. But it was good to see. I would much rather see #1 out there on offense than #10 so we can see what he can do. We know what #10 can do. And he may not have a stellar 40, but he had an insanely elite 3 cone of 6.67. Go BUCS!

  46. Goatfarmer Says:

    Maniac – stop with your Miller obsession. Your boy is no threat to him. Miller is getting targets, making catches and producing results. Get back to me when your boy makes his first play. Remind us how many targets your boy has gotten? But maybe with your inside intel, you know more about it than Brady and the coaches? Because clearly what you think is a good route, and open, the quarterback disagrees. What you think are good hands, showed up on a muffed punt.

    I watched the Ottawa Roughriders game the other day. Your boy would fit right in with that team.

  47. firethecannons Says:

    still waiting for the real sh^t to happen. definitely do not ever trust this kid and will see about how it all plays out, will give rahs rahs when it is deserved but not yet.

  48. Goatfarmer Says:

    Cannons – Maniac insists that he’s already been more impactful with his one reception and falling down acts. So we, Bucs coaches, and Brady are all wrong. None of sees what the genius football insider sees in the little feller.