Ranking the Top Returning FCS Special Teams Players Heading Into the 2023 Season
The 2023 college football season will arrive with the return of many All-America and all-conference players – some also NFL prospects – and it reflects heavily with FCS special teams players.
The Big Sky Conference is particularly strong again, led by Weber State kickoff returner Abraham Williams, in a ranking of the top returning FCS special teams players by position group and overall.
In the last two years, former Big Sky All-Americans Rashid Shaheed (Weber State, 2017-21) and Malik Flowers (Montana, 2018-22) both set the FCS record with seven career kickoff returns for touchdowns.
(Here’s more: Top Returning FCS Offensive Players and Top Returning FCS Defensive Players)
FCS Place-Kicker and Punter Rankings
1. Matthew Cook, Northern Iowa, PK, Gr., 5-11, 199,
Cook enters his extra season of eligibility as the FCS’ active leader in field goals (67, also an MVFC record), field goal accuracy (80.7% on 83 attempts) and points (325). He’s automatic on PATS – a perfect 124 of 124. While he benefits from kicking indoors at the UNI-Dome, all three of his field goals of 50+ yards, including a 55-yard high, have come in road games.
2. Ethan Gettman, Bryant, PK, Sr., 6-4, 190
An 82-yard punt in the 2021 season was indicative of the lefty kicker’s strong leg. Last season, the third-team selection on the Stats Perform FCS All-America Team was 14 of 15 on field goal attempts for the highest percentage in the FCS (93.3) and was 4 of 4 from 40 yards+, including a 56-yarder. He received the place-kicking Fred Mitchell Award.
3. Ryan Kost, Delaware, P, Gr., 6-2, 220
Kost didn’t qualify for the 2022 national leaderboard due to having only 30 punts in 11 games at Monmouth, but his 48.1-yard average would have ranked No. 1. The grad transfer, who’s already an All-CAA first-team selection, has averaged 44 yards on 122 career punts.
4. Chris Campos, Stephen F. Austin, PK, Jr., 5-10, 220
The initials may as well stand for “Captain Clutch,” as the fourth-year standout is second among active FCS kickers with 51 career field goals, none bigger than a 51-yard, walk-off winner against Abilene Christian last October. He is 51 of 67 (76.1%) on field goals and 120 of 122 (98.4%) on PATs.
5. Trey Wilhoit, Florida A&M, P, Jr., 5-10, 175
Wilhoit has moved on to FAMU after one season at Eastern Illinois, where he was the All-Ohio Valley Conference punter with a 44-yard average and helped the Panthers to rank No. 7 in net punting.
6. Grant Burkett, Missouri State, P, Jr., 6-1, 184
Across three seasons, Burkett has a 43.8-yard punting average, and he ranked second in the FCS in 2021 at 46.2. Returners have had to use a fair catch on 54 of Burkett’s 164 career punts.
7. Tommy Sullivan, Montana State, LS, Jr., 5-11, 220
A place-kicker or punter can’t have success without a long snapper, and following the FCS’ superb 2022 season at the position, Sullivan stands out. He’s had only one less than perfect long snap in each of his first two seasons (MSU has had 160 combined punts and field goal attempts in that time).
FCS Kickoff and Punt Returner Rankings
1. Abraham Williams, Weber State, KR, Jr., 6-1, 175
Williams was just one off the FCS single-season record when he returned four kickoffs for touchdowns last season – each going for 100 yards. His 37.4-yard average on 24 returns also rank No. 2 in FCS single-season history for players who averaged 1.2 or more KORs per game.
2. Devron Harper, Mercer, KR/PR, Sr., 5-9, 168
Harper was on the list of top-returning FCS offensive players, and couldn’t be left off the special teams list. He’s scored five times on returns (three punts, two kickoffs) in his career and was the Stats Perform FCS All-America punt returner at Gardner-Webb following the 2021 spring season.
3. Anthony Frederick, Bryant, KR, R-Sr., 5-11, 180
Frederick consistently put Bryant at midfield or in opposing territory while ranking fourth in the FCS in kickoff return average (30.4) on 29 returns, including a 100-yarder versus Brown.
4. Marqui Johnson, Montana State, KR, Jr., 5-8, 163
MJ’s 98-yard kickoff return for a score against Oregon State was a highlight as he averaged 31.2 yards on 28 kickoff returns, ranking second nationally.
5. Jarrod Barnes, Central Arkansas, PR, Sr., 5-11, 180
Barnes missed the 2021 season with an injury, but came back to lead UCA in receiving and average 15.3 yards per punt return – No. 3 among FCS players with 15 or more returns – with two going for touchdowns.
6. Junior Bergen, Montana, PR, Jr., 5-11, 184
Bergen tied for the third-most punt returns (22) in the FCS, averaging 14.9 yards with two TDs, including the game-tying score as the Griz rallied from a 21-point deficit to beat Southeast Missouri in the playoffs.
7. Keith Jenkins Jr., Morgan State, KR, So., 6-1, 185
Jenkins quickly found success on special teams, averaging 29.4 yards on 21 kickoff returns, including two that went for touchdowns, as he was named to the Stats Perform FCS Freshman All-America Team.
(Best players are in the best games? Ranking the best matchups of the 2023 FCS season)