NFCE Position Rankings – Special Teams

NFCE Position Rankings – Special Teams

SPECIAL TEAMS

I’m rounding out the series with a quick look at special teams. This is a bit of a crap shoot; there isn’t typically much consistency in special teams performance from year-to-year, and teams routinely can go from a top 5 special teams unit to a bottom 5 in just one offseason, or vice versa. So, take this one for a grain of salt, but here’s my best guess.

1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
2. DALLAS COWBOYS
3. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
4. NEW YORK GIANTS

4. NEW YORK GIANTS
K: Aldrick Rosas; P: Brad Wing; LS: Zak DeOssie
KR: Dwayne Harris; PR: Dwayne Harris

Obviously the story surrounding the Giants special teams in 2016 revolves mostly around the misguided and frankly idiotic approach they took to handling the domestic violence allegations against Josh Brown. But between Brown and his eventual replacement Robbie Gould, the Giants had the 2nd best FG percentage in the NFL. So, naturally, they are replacing Gould with Aldrick Rosas, who was on the 90-man roster for Tennessee as a rookie but didn’t make the team. He’s a major question mark heading into 2017, and the reason the Giants are 4th in my ranking.

The Giants were mediocre in basically every other ST category except punt returns, where they were 31st in the NFL. The Giants bring back Dwayne Harris, the erstwhile best slot WR in the NFL, as primary punt returner, and he’s not very good. Overall, I expect continued mediocrity from the Giants in 2017.

3. WASHINGTON REDSKINS
K: Dustin Hopkins; P: Tress Way; LS: Nick Sundberg
KR: Chris Thompson; PR: Jamison Crowder

After some really fun years when the Redskins special teams ranked at the bottom of the NFL for special teams, they have rebounded the last couple years to become at least a serviceable unit. Dustin Hopkins did struggle last year, and the Redskins ranked 23rd in the NFL in FG percentage, including just 10/16 from beyond 40 and 3/7 from beyond 50, and no bigger miss than a 34 –yarder with 2 minutes left in overtime in an eventual tie game against the Cincinnati Bengals. The Redskins haven’t brought in any competition for that spot, so they’ll be hoping Hopkins can rebound in 2017.

Across the board, the Redskins were below average in every special teams category last season (FGs, kickoff coverage, kick returns, punt coverage) except one. Thanks largely to Jamison Crowder, they ranked 2nd in the NFL in punt return efficiency. They’ll bring back Crowder as their primary return man, so that should continue to be a strength for them in 2017.

2. DALLAS COWBOYS
K: Dan Bailey; P: Chris Jones; LS: LP Ladoucer
KR: Ryan Switzer; PR: Cole Beasley/Ryan Switzer

After four years as one of the best kickers in football, Dan Bailey had a down year in 2016. His 84.4% FG percentage was the worst of his career, and he was just 10/15 from 40+, where previously he had been money. Bailey also kicked fewer touchbacks than the year before, so the Cowboys will hope he rebounds and that 2016 isn’t a sign of a leg losing strength.

The lone area where the Cowboys special teams in 2016 was really notable was punt coverage, where they were 6th best in the NFL. They bring back Chris Jones at punter, who landed 25 punts inside the 20 compared to just 4 touchbacks in 2016.

I probably have the Cowboys ranked too highly on this list, because the Curse of Lucky Whitehead will probably haunt their special teams in 2017, and lead to the Ryan Switzer injury we all know is coming anyway.

1. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
K: Caleb Sturgis; P: Donnie Jones; LS: Jon Dorenbos
KR: Wendell Smallwood/Nelson Agholor; PR: Darren Sproles

If there is a positive to be taken from the Chip Kelly legacy in Philadelphia, it’s a commitment to building a strong special teams unit, and hiring Dave Fipp as special teams coach. Since 2014, the Eagles have been among the best special teams units in the NFL every year, and in 2016 they were the best overall ST unit in the league, especially in covering and returning kickoffs, where they were the best unit in the NFL.

The Eagles return Caleb Sturgis, who had a surprisingly good year in 2016, finishing with an 85.4% FG percentage and kicking the 2nd most FGs total in the NFL. The Eagles also bring back Chris Maragos, one of their best ST players, and drafted Mack Hollins based in no small part on his ST prowess in college. They did let Bryan Braman, another strong ST player, walk in free agency.