A statistic that measures the amount of yards a receiving team gains on plays involving a kickoff or punt. Teams will set up blocking to attempt to return these kicks as far as possible to reduce the number of yards that their offense will have to gain in order to reach the end zone. Kicking teams will setup coverage schemes to minimize the number of return yards gained. Effective returners will average a large number of return yards on each kick, and may occasionally return a kick for a touchdown.
Return yards tend to be a measurement of the effectiveness of a team's special teams unit. Teams that gain a large number of return yards tend to make it easier on their offense, and will often score more points. Kicking teams that have excellent kick coverage units will give up very few return yards, and this will make it easier on their defense. Punters will kick the ball high with a lot of "hang time" in order to let their coverage teams get down the field and reduce the number of potential return yards on the play. Return yards are best measured by the average return yards gained per kick; a high number is a sign of an excellent return game.