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Devin Duvernay Leads NFL in Punt Returns Despite Learning on the Fly

WR Devin Duvernay
WR Devin Duvernay

Devin Duvernay has blazing speed, excellent hands, and great contact balance. With those attributes, it's no surprise that Duvernay is a good punt returner.

What's surprising is that Duvernay had never done it before. Duvernay didn't return punts at Sachse High School in Texas. He didn't return punts at the University of Texas. It wasn't until Week 16 of his rookie when Duvernay got his first taste of it.

Yet, now in his second season, Duvernay leads the league in punt return average through four games at 18.9 yards.

"I'm honestly kind of learning on the fly," Duvernay said Wednesday.

"Last year, when they threw me back there at the end of the year, was my first time ever doing it. So I never did it in college, high school or anything. So, I'm still kind of learning. What Coach said is part of it is just catching the ball and just running, so that's what I've been doing."

Among returners who have averaged at least one return per game, it's Duvernay and then Tennessee's Chester Rogers, who is far behind at 13.3 yards per return. The New York Giants' C.J. Board has one return of 26 yards.

Duvernay has gained a league-high 189 yards on his punt returns. Cleveland's Demetric Felton is in second place with 154 yards, but he's had six more returns than Duvernay. It's not just that Duvernay has had a couple big ones; he's consistently getting good yardage.

Duvernay's first career punt return came in Week 16 last season against the New York Giants. He fielded it at the Ravens' 17-yard line, eluded one tackler, powered through another, and picked up 17 yards. Not bad for his first attempt.

"I was telling Coach, I'd never thought about doing it," Duvernay said. "But he threw me back there, and [I] had some success, and I've loved it."

Last week in Denver, Duvernay broke loose for a 42-yard return that set the Ravens up for a field goal just before the end of the first half. He caught the punt along the left sideline, reversed field and got the edge along the Ravens' right sideline.

Duvernay won the Texas 6A title in the 100-meter dash in high school, so his speed has never been a question. He showed it with a kickoff return for a touchdown early last season against the Kansas City Chiefs, and he continues to handle kickoff return duties this season. But now he's also putting it to use on punt returns.

According to Next Gen Stats, Duvernay hit 21.76 mph on his long return Sunday, the second-fastest speed of any ball carrier in the NFL so far this season.

"Just try to carve out a lane in my brain and just hit it," Duvernay said.

It hasn't been perfect. In Denver, Duvernay made an ill-advised fair catch inside the 5-yard line and let another punt bounce, which rolled all the way to the Ravens' 2-yard line.

He muffed a punt in the Week 1 loss in Las Vegas, though he jumped on the recovery himself. In Detroit, he lost a fumble during a return, but it was negated by a penalty on the Lions. Duvernay bounced back to catch his first career touchdown on the ensuing drive.

The payoff has been worth the stumbles, and there's no doubt that with more experience, Duvernay will only continue to become a better returner.

"I never really think about mistakes I make or making a bad decision," Duvernay said. "I just think of coming out and making the play the next play I get."

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