The NFL’s all-decade team for 2010 to 2019 includes many great players and future Hall of Famers, but it also includes some head-scratching decisions. One of them is the presence of Tyreek Hill as the all-decade punt returner.
Hill is undeniably electrifying with the ball in his hands, but was he really the best punt returner in the NFL over the last decade? No. He wasn’t. And he wasn’t even close.
For his career, Hill has totaled 85 punt returns for 1,009 yards. He ranks 25th in punt return yards for the decade. Since his rookie year, Hill barely even qualifies as a punt returner at all. Although he was excellent as a punt returner as a rookie in 2016, with a league-leading 592 punt return yards, he became only a part-time return man in 2017 and 2018 and totaled just 417 punt return yards in his next two seasons combined. In 2019 he played offense almost exclusively and had zero punt return yards. So Hill has one season as a full-time punt returner and two seasons as a part-time punt returner on his résumé. That’s enough to make him the best punt returner of the decade?
Devin Hester had more than twice as many punt return yards as Hill in the decade, plus a higher yards-per-return average and more touchdowns, and yet Hester wasn’t chosen as the all-decade punt returner. Hester did make the all-decade team as a kick returner, but if the all-decade team was going to have separate spots for returning kickoffs and returning punts, then putting Hester at both positions would have made more sense than putting Hill at the punt return position when he only returned 85 punts.
Several other players would have been better choices for all-decade punt returner than Hill. Marcus Sherels and Ted Ginn both had more than twice as many punt return yards as Hill. Julian Edelman, Dwayne Harris, Patrick Peterson, Antonio Brown and Travis Benjamin all had more punt return yards and as many touchdowns as Hill.
Maybe some voters thought Hill belonged on the all-decade team simply because he has had so many highlight-reel plays, but most of those plays were as a receiver, not a punt returner. If the voters really wanted Hill on the team, he would have been a better choice for the “flex” position, which went to Darren Sproles, than the punt return position.
All-decade teams are important in assessing NFL history, and often used to bolster the Hall of Fame candidacies of players. That’s why it’s important to get the choices right, and in the case of Hill, the choice was wrong.