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ESPN Special Teams Ranking


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!!tops in NFC South!!

1. Chicago Bears

There is no question about this one. The Bears have the most dangerous punt and kick returner in the league in Devin Hester, who marked up six touchdowns in 2007. He changes every opposing special teams coordinator's approach to coverage. Simply put, teams pay when they kick the ball to Hester. The punting duties are in good hands with Brad Maynard, one of the most consistent in the league in terms of hang time and distance, while kicker Robbie Gould kicked 31 of 36 attempts last season. With their lack of a consistent offense, the Bears rely on their special teams to keep them in games.

2. Cleveland Browns

Josh Cribbs is an elusive, explosive returner who shows great instincts and deceptive strength when hitting a crease. Cribbs scored three return touchdowns last season and broke several more long returns that changed field position for his team. Kicker Phil Dawson is extremely consistent, but punter Dave Zastudil and his coverage team were inconsistent, averaging only 34.6 net yards per attempt. Cleveland has the ability to tip field position in its favor when Cribbs has the ball in his hands, but there is always the chance their own coverage units will give that position back.

3. Buffalo Bills

The Buffalo special teams have been among the best in the league since head coach **** Jauron took over in 2006. Jauron puts as much emphasis on this phase of the game as any coach in the league. The Bills field two dangerous returners in Roscoe Parrish and Terrence McGee, both of whom have impressive vision and instincts to hit a crease and have the speed to burn opposing coverage units. Buffalo also has one of the best kicking tandems in the NFL with place kicker Rian Lindell kicking 24 of 27 attempts last season and punter Brian Moorman averaging an impressive 37.6 net yards. Both players show great poise under pressure, and the Bills' coverage teams are discipline and they rarely give up field position.

4. Houston Texans

The Texans have quietly become one of the better special teams units in the league thanks to improving their return units and core special teams players. The return duties are handled by veteran WR Andre Davis and second-year man Jacoby Jones. Davis showed great vision and timing in taking three kickoffs back for touchdowns last season, while Jones busted several long punt returns. Punter Matt Turk is excellent at dropping the ball inside the 20-yard line while also being consistent with his hang time and distance, and veteran kicker Kris Brown hit 86 percent of his attempts and was 5-for-5 from 50 yards and beyond.

5. San Diego Chargers

The Chargers have been consistent with there special teams with the compact Darren Sproles handling both punts and returning kicks. He has quickness and is tough to corner. He marked up several long runs as well as two touchdowns as a returner. Punter Mike Scifres is excellent at dropping the ball inside the 20-yard line and while Nate Kaeding kicked 78 percent of his attempts. Scifres is consistent with his hang time and distance. The Chargers coverage units have been very solid to make their opponents go the length of the field. Norv Turner and the new staff did a nice job of utilizing their talented roster to maintain efficiency.

6. New York Jets

The Jets are led on special teams by the consistency of punter Ben Graham and kicker Mike Nugent. Graham is excellent when it comes to killing the ball inside the 20, while Nugent kicked 81 percent of his attempts in 2007. Coach Eric Mangini is another head coach who places great emphasis on the kicking game and his coverage units have been solid. Leon Washington handles both the punt and kick-return duties and is a hard-nosed runner who hits creases with a head of steam. Washington is solid at fielding punts, but is even better as a kick returner, taking three kickoffs the distance last season.

7. New England Patriots

The Patriots were solid in most areas last season with the exception of kickoff coverage, but their special teams were tested less than any other team in the league thanks to New England's record-setting offense. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski didn't have many opportunities, but did knock in 88 percent of his attempts. Punter Chris Hanson was solid in 2007 and performed well on the rare occasions he was called on. Ellis Hobbs has been a very good kick returner for the past two seasons, breaking long runs and taking two kicks to the house, while Wes Welker is solid handling punts and shows upfield quickness despite a lack of explosiveness. Bill Belichick-coached teams are always very disciplined and the special teams phases are no different.

8. Seattle Seahawks

Nate Burleson is one of the most explosive return men in the league, with the instincts to let his blockers set up, then the ability to burst through the seam and pick up a big gain. Burleson handles the punt and kick return duties and is dangerous on both. Losing consistent kicker Josh Brown in the offseason and replacing him with struggling veteran Olindo Mare will likely hinder the kicking phase, and punter Ryan Plackemeier is inconsistent with his hang time and distance. The coverage units have been solid in keeping opposing returners in check.

9. Baltimore Ravens

The Ravens' special teams have been solid in recent years and new head coach John Harbaugh, who spent nine years as Philadelphia's special teams coach, should make Baltimore even better in 2008. Building his return units around Yamon Figurs and Ed Reed gives Harbaugh two talented punt returners who have a knack for finding a crease, while Figurs also excels on kickoff returns. Kicker Matt Stover is a 19-year veteran and continues to be one of the most consistent kickers in the league, while punter Sam Koch and the coverage units don't usually give up much in the way of field position. LB Gary Stills and FB Justin Green anchor the coverage units with great instincts and the aggression to make plays.

10. Jacksonville Jaguars

Jacksonville's special teams units have been strong since handing kick return duties to Maurice Jones-Drew and acquiring Adam Podlesh as the punter. The coverage teams have always been strong, but the consistency Podlesh brings to his craft allowed Jacksonville to often gain the field position advantage. Jones-Drew runs back kicks with great vision and deceptive speed to squirt through creases, and he often gets lost behind his blockers as he keeps his 5-foot-7 frame low to the ground. Kicker Josh Scobee had his best season in 2007 despite missing the first half of the season, kicking 12 of 13 attempts. The coverage teams are anchored by four hard-hitting players in LB Brian Iwuh, S Chad Nkang, CB Scott Starks and FB Montell Owens. Coach Jack Del Rio's grind-it-out approach to the game means the special teams are counted on heavily to maintain a field position advantage.

The Top 10

Scouts Inc.'s Ken Moll says Devin Hester and Robbie Gould are big reasons why the Bears have the best special-teams units in the NFL.

" Nos. 1-10: Hands down -- Bears are No. 1

11. St. Louis Rams

The Rams had a tough year in 2007, but their special teams were very solid. Dangerous punt and kick returner Dante Hall showed he has the quickness and instincts to be an impact player for St. Louis. The Rams were one of the best in the return game, but their coverage units were very inconsistent. The special-teams units were tested often because the Rams ranked 24th in offense and 21st in defense. The bright spots on the Rams' coverage teams were LB Quinton Culberson, RB Travis Minor and FB Richard Owens. P Donnie Jones has outstanding leg strength but needs to be more consistent at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. Brown was acquired in the offseason to replace Jeff Wilkins. He should do well in St. Louis.

12. Green Bay Packers

The Packers made marked improvement in 2007 led by rookie PK Mason Crosby and P Jon Ryan, who played in the CFL. Both players showed poise under pressure and should get better in 2008. Green Bay fields a group of returners who were effective at changing field position, including CBs Charles Woodson, Will Blackmon and Tramon Williams. All three athletes have great instincts and quickness to hit a crease and get upfield. The Packers' coverage units were some of the best in the league, anchored by LB Tracy White, DE Jason Hunter, SS Charlie Peprah and FB Korey Hall.

13. Minnesota Vikings

The Vikings' special-teams units were very solid last year. P Chris Kluwe displayed outstanding versatility hitting deep balls to change field position and pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line with great hang time. Veteran PK Ryan Longwell was excellent inside of the 50-yard line but has lost some range on his long attempts. Reserve WR Aundrae Allison showed he could make an impact returning kicks because he has the speed to be dangerous in the open field. The Vikings don't field a punt returner who is explosive with the ball in his hands, but veteran Bobby Wade is very reliable. The Vikings' special-teams coverage units feature sure tackling defensive players, including Heath Farwell, Vinny Ciurciu, Eric Frampton and Charles Gordon. They need to tighten up with their punt coverage, but they have the athleticism to improve in this area.

14. Atlanta Falcons

The Falcons had a dismal season in 2007, but some aspects of their special-teams units were promising. P Michael Koenen established himself during his third year in the league with a 38.8-yard net average and by showing he's skilled at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. Veteran PK Jason Elam will replace the ageless Morten Andersen and continue to be very reliable. Jerious Norwood and Adam Jennings teamed up on kickoff returns and flashed excellent instincts to give the Falcons' offense a short field. Jennings isn't an explosive punt returner, but he's reliable with the ball in his hands. Atlanta's coverage units were inconsistent to hold field position, but their inconsistency likely will improve with new head coach Mike Smith's putting extra emphasis in this area. Atlanta has several solid players to build around, including core special-teams contributors David Irons, Daren Stone, Michael Boley and Corey McIntyre.

15. New York Giants

The defending Super Bowl champs' special teams will be very solid thanks to a reliable, veteran punter in Jeff Feagles and kicker Lawrence Tynes, who hit 85 percent of his attempts. Ahmad Bradshaw and Reuben Droughns handled most of the kick-return duties, but Domenik Hixon flashed the speed and instincts to hit a crease. R.W. McQuarters isn't explosive as a punt returner but has sure hands when fielding the ball. The Giants' punt-coverage unit was outstanding at corralling its opponents, but the kickoff-coverage unit needs to tighten up in 2008.

16. New Orleans Saints

The Saints' special-teams units are very solid. P Steve Weatherford continues to be consistent with his hang time and distance, while PKs Martin Gramatica and rookie Taylor Mehlhaff will battle for the kicking duties. Gramatica had only five attempts in 2007 but made all of them, while Mehlhaff's leg should give Martin a run for his money. Lance Moore is solid at returning punts but hasn't shown explosive speed to go all the way. Pierre Thomas and Moore are reliable at returning kicks and show great vision for hitting a crease. The Saints' coverage units have been inconsistent at limiting their opponents and need to improve in this area. Standout core special-teams contributors for the Saints should be LB Troy Evans, CB Usama Young, SS Chris Reis and WR Terrance Copper.

17. San Francisco 49ers

The best part of the 49ers last year was their special-teams units. PK Joe Nedney was outstanding, hitting 89.5 percent of his attempts. Nedney was a key factor in all five victories the 49ers marked up in 2007. P Andy Lee has excellent leg strength and hangs the ball high to give his coverage team time to lock down most returners. San Francisco signed Allen Rossum in the offseason to handle its return duties, and he should give the 49ers more explosiveness to make a big play. San Francisco fields solid coverage units on kickoffs and punts and should continue to improve in these areas. Core special-team standouts Keith Lewis and Michael Robinson lead a feisty group of players who were a bright spot for San Francisco.

18. Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins have two reliable players handling their kicking duties in P Brandon Fields and PK Jay Feely. Fields is a steady performer, while Feely was an upgrade from the previously struggling Olindo Mare. Feely missed only two of his 23 attempts in 2007. The Dolphins must improve their coverage units, and with new head coach Tony Sparano emphasizing the kicking game, this area should have marked improvement. Ted Ginn Jr. showed he can handle both the punt- and kick-return duties and flashed speed in the open field. Miami lost some valuable core special-teams players in the offseason, but two athletes who will continue to be excellent on coverage units are Jason Allen and Edmond Miles.

19. Washington Redskins

The Redskins had a roller-coaster season in 2007. Their special-teams units appear to follow a similar pattern because their returners flash the ability to pick up chunks of yards, but their coverage units show inconsistency to hold field position. P Derrick Frost shows a great knack at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. PK Shaun Suisham is with his fourth club in his short three-year career but shows great promise, as he's hit 82.9 percent of his attempts. The Redskins field two solid returners in Antwaan Randle El and Ladell Betts. Both athletes show instincts and toughness to change field position. Core special-teams standouts Khary Campbell, Leigh Torrence, Vernon Fox and Rock Cartwright should continue to improve the overall effectiveness of these units.

20. Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys field a very solid punter and place-kicker to handle their special-teams duties, but their coverage units can be inconsistent at holding field position. P Mat McBriar has a strong leg and can directional-kick and drop the ball inside the 20-yard line effectively. PK Nick Folk is coming off a successful rookie season in which he showed excellent accuracy inside the 50-yard line. Patrick Crayton is sure-handed and reliable at getting upfield as a punt returner but isn't explosive with the ball in his hands. A healthy Terence Newman also should elevate the return production in this area. Miles Austin is solid when returning kicks but isn't dangerous in the open field. First-round draft choice Mike Jenkins could bolster both return teams, and Adam Jones could change the entire complexion of the Cowboys' special-teams units if he's reinstated. Defensive reserves Pat Watkins, Bobby Carpenter and Kevin Burnett are core special-teams standouts who give Dallas a good place to start when it looks to improve its coverage teams.

21. Pittsburgh Steelers

The Steelers were very solid with their kicking and punting efficiency. P Daniel Sepulveda had excellent hang time and was efficient at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. PK Jeff Reed was outstanding last season, hitting 92 percent of his attempts while showing range and poise under pressure. Losing Allen Rossum will affect the Steelers' return game, but his departure opens the door for Jeremy Bloom. He will use his quickness and instincts to return punts, while veteran Najeh Davenport will be serviceable returning kickoffs. Both coverage units need to be more consistent in 2008 because Pittsburgh gave up field position too often last year. LB Lawrence Timmons along with CBs Anthony Madison and William Gay are solid core special-teams standouts the Steelers can build around.

22. Tennessee Titans

The Titans needed to add an explosive return specialist this offseason, but it doesn't appear they were able to corral that player. Rookie RB Chris Johnson has the speed to help as a kick returner but wasn't outstanding in college. It's likely that Johnson, Chris Davis and newly acquired Chris Carr will share the return duties. P Craig Hentrich has decent leg strength and is adept at directional punts, while PK Rob Bironas continues to perform at a high level; he hit 89.7 percent of his attempts last season. The coverage units have been very solid and have held returners to few long gains. Reserve CB Eric King and second-year S Michael Griffin are two core special-teams players who lead an aggressive unit.

23. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Tampa Bay's special-teams units were very streaky in 2007 but showed excellent coverage most of the time. The Bucs rarely gave up field position and often made their opponents go a long way to get into the end zone. P Josh Bidwell has a solid leg but needs to become more efficient at dropping the ball inside the 20-yard line. PK Matt Bryant has been very accurate on short and intermediate field-goal attempts but lacks long-range accuracy. Rookie Dexter Jackson and Micheal Spurlock should handle the return duties for the Bucs and may elevate their ability to change field position. S Will Allen and LB Quincy Black head an aggressive group of core special-teams players who should continue to lock down their opponents.

24. Kansas City Chiefs

The Chiefs replaced Eddie Drummond as their primary return specialist with fifth-year defensive back B.J. Sams from Baltimore. They also will look to their young draft choices to change the complexion of their return game. When healthy, Sams has the speed and instincts to change field position. P Dustin Colquitt has outstanding leg strength, is consistent with his hang time and is excellent at pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. The Chiefs are searching for a reliable place-kicker to replace Dave Rayner and have brought rookie Barth Conner in to compete with third-year player Nick Novak. The Chiefs' special-teams units were inconsistent covering both kickoffs and punts, but newly added Demorrio Williams to go along with special-teams standouts Tyron Brackenridge and Nate Harris should upgrade this part of the Chiefs' game.

25. Indianapolis Colts

The Colts' special-teams units are clearly the weakest aspect of their club. Because Indianapolis has such an explosive offense, its special teams often go unnoticed, but the lack of consistent coverage on kickoffs and punts yielded four touchdowns last season. P Hunter Smith has a strong leg but is inconsistent with his hang time and distance. Future Hall of Fame PK Adam Vinatieri had one his worst seasons last season, as he missed every attempt beyond 40 yards. It's likely that the normally clutch kicker will bounce back in 2008, but he is getting older. T.J. Rushing has the speed and instincts to be a dangerous threat as a punt and kick returner. His quickness and small stature make him tough to corral in the open field. Core special-teams players Darrell Reid, Tim Jennings and Dante Hughes could help turn around the team's coverage units.

26. Cincinnati Bengals

The Bengals' effectiveness on special teams was inconsistent in 2007. P Kyle Larson has a strong leg and was adept at hanging the ball high inside the 20-yard line but was inconsistent getting the ball deep at times. PK Shayne Graham continues to be consistent hitting all but four of his 35 attempts. Glenn Holt showed deceptive speed and good vision at hitting a crease when returning kicks, but the Bengals' punt-return production was the worst in the league. The coverage units also need to improve because they gave up too many big returns.

27. Carolina Panthers

The Panthers continue to struggle when changing field position with their return game. Ryne Robinson is coming off his rookie season as the Panthers' primary return specialist, but he didn't show the explosiveness most experts predicted he would. The Panthers believe he has the talent to give their offense a short field and likely will stick with him. P Jason Baker had excellent hang time, pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. PK John Kasay continued to show accuracy and leg strength, hitting 85.7 percent of his attempts. Even though Kasay is entering his 18th season in the league, he displays all the tools to perform at a high level. Core special-teams standouts Richard Marshall, Quinton Teal and Tim Shaw are a good group of players to build around.

28. Denver Broncos

The Broncos' special teams have struggled at times. Losing Jason Elam in the offseason likely will hurt that part of the kicking game because he has been replaced by virtually unknown Matt Prater. Another inexperienced player, Sam Paulescu, is slated to take over the punting chores. Even though he has a strong leg, working with him could be an adventure in 2008. Rookie WR Eddie Royal should be a good addition to Glenn Martinez and Andre Hall as return specialists. The coverage units have athletic players to execute well but are inconsistent. Three LBs, Jamie Winborn, Jordan Beck and Louis Green, lead the way for Denver's special teams in 2008, and we should expect this part of their game to improve.

29. Detroit Lions

The Lions field two solid players to handle their kicking duties. P Nick Harris has been consistent with his hang time, distance and directional punting, and he can pin opponents inside the 20-yard line. Seventeen-year veteran PK Jason Hanson continues to be a solid performer. Aveion Cason is a reliable kick returner but is not an explosive athlete. Mike Furrey will replace Troy Walters at returning punts, and this has been a very average area for Detroit's special teams. Their coverage units were less than impressive in 2007, and the Lions need to upgrade this aspect of their game. The Lions have given their opponents a short field too often. LB Alex Lewis, DE Corey Smith and FB Casey Fitzsimmons are core special-teams players Detroit should build around.

30. Oakland Raiders

P Shane Lechler is the brightest spot on Oakland's special teams. He has outstanding leg strength, consistency and poise under pressure that gives opponents a long field to work with. Somewhat-quirky PK Sebastian Janikowski is very inconsistent. He hit only 71.9 percent of his attempts and only 61.9 percent beyond 40 yards. Johnnie Lee Higgins is slated to return kicks and punts. He is serviceable but doesn't appear to be an explosive open-field threat. The coverage units have been marginal, and they yielded three touchdowns in 2007. The Raiders need to tighten up in this area to improve with this aspect of their game. Two solid core special-teams players are CB Chris Johnson and LB Isaiah Ekejiuba, and the Raiders should be able to build around them.

31. Arizona Cardinals

Dirk Johnson will handle the Cardinals' punting duties this coming season. He is with his fourth club in six seasons and has been a somewhat erratic performer. PK Neil Rackers is very accurate on his short attempts but hit only 53 percent beyond 40 yards. Steve Breaston handles the return duties for the Cardinals and has speed and burst to find creases when fielding punts. He is solid when returning kickoffs but isn't as dangerous in the open field, and the coaching staff may look to some of its young talent to upgrade this area. Arizona's coverage units have been marginal and have given up field position too often. It's likely that head coach Ken Whisenhunt will address this part of the game early in camp. Reserve LB Monty Beisel and CB Michael Adams are feisty core special-teams standouts for the Cardinals.

32. Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles struggled again in 2007 and will need to address this aspect of their game to make marked improvement in 2008. Normally excellent PK David Akers had one of his worst seasons as a pro last season, hitting only two of 10 attempts greater than 40 yards. P Sav Rocca was inconsistent with his hang time and distance, and his erratic performance affected the coverage units. Both the kickoff-return and punt-return teams didn't yield many plays to change field position, and the coaching staff is hoping rookie DeSean Jackson will upgrade the team in this area. Jackson has talent, but only time will tell whether his slight build can handle the load he will take on. Philadelphia's coverage units were inconsistent at running down punt returners and gave up field position too often in tight contests. LBs Chris Gocong and Akeem Jordan, along with CB Nick Graham, are standouts for the Eagles' special teams. This aspect of their game should improve.

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Really? I thought our ST blocking was awful. There's a reason no one got any yards on punt returns, because they were tackled once they touched the ball. Not saying Jennings is great, but I can't blame him for a lot of it. I hope all these new guys will help with our blocking, because I swear it is EVERY time.

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sporkdevil (7/17/2008)
Really? I thought our ST blocking was awful. There's a reason no one got any yards on punt returns, because they were tackled once they touched the ball. Not saying Jennings is great, but I can't blame him for a lot of it. I hope all these new guys will help with our blocking, because I swear it is EVERY time.

can't gain yards because jennings sucks at punt returns.

good thing we picked up t. brown

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