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  • Bradley Locker

2019 NFL Special Teams Index

Updated: Jun 12, 2019

Special teams: Possibly the biggest X-factor of games in the National Football League. When things go well, special teams coordinators are rarely heralded; however, the antithesis is true when units fail to perform adequately.

Heading into the 2019 season, I ranked all teams based on solely their special teams corps—no, Giants, your ranking largely won’t affect your overall record.

How did you rank the teams?

First, I looked at each team’s projected depth chart at kicker, punter, kick returner, and punt returner (sorry, long snapper). Next, I used the following metrics from the 2018 season:


Special Teams Penalties Committed Per Game (Pen./G)

Avg. Punt Distance

Opponent TDs Allowed

TDs Scored (if a returner switched teams, I gave a touchdown scored to his new team)

Avg. Yards/Kick Return

Avg. Yards/Punt Return

Special Teams DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average, which is described here)

Weighted (WEI) Special Teams DVOA (which values later-season games over initial matchups)

Without further ado, here is the 2019 NFL Special Teams Index.

Note: All rankings are qualified other than kick/punt return ranks (unless specified). Also, some stats that are listed above may be found in explanations.

Tier 1: Elite

1. Seahawks

K: Jason Myers

P: Michael Dickson

KR: Tyler Lockett

PR: Tyler Lockett

Pen./G: .625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (kick return allowed)

DVOA: -2.2% (24th)

WEI DVOA: -2.2% (24th)

Boy, are the Seahawks going to have some excellent specialists in 2019. After a year of Sebastian Janikowski as his kicker, Pete Carroll now has 2018 Pro Bowler Jason Myers at his disposition—coupled with arguably the best punter in the league in Michael Dickson. Lockett has always been dangerous since entering the league in 2016, and I think that will proliferate this season. To me, the Seahawks are head and shoulders above the rest, especially considering that they only committed the 3rd most penalties per game.

2. Ravens

K: Justin Tucker

P: Sam Koch

KR: Chris Moore

PR: Cyrus Jones

Pen./G: 1.0625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (Jones punt return)

DVOA: 2.9% (6th)

WEI DVOA: 5.9% (4th)

Last year was somewhat of an aberrational year for Tucker, as the year prior he had hit at a 91.9% clip compared to his 89.7% rate a season ago. However, he still, arguably, is the best kicker in the league, and Sam Koch’s 47.4 average yards/punt ranked fourth. Cyrus Jones had a nice year and established himself as a punt return threat, and the Ravens expect Chris Moore to step up in this year’s campaign.

Former Bears and current 49ers kicker Robbie Gould continues to excel despite being 36 years old. In fact, he only missed 1 field goal and 2 extra points in 2018.

3. 49ers

K: Robbie Gould

P: Mitch Wishnowsky

KR: Richie James

PR: Richie James

Pen./G: 1.0625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (James kick return)

DVOA: 0.3% (11th)

WEI DVOA: 3.7% (8th)

I think it was incredibly astute for the 49ers to franchise tag Robbie Gould, as they (for now) ensured that their 97.1% man would stay in the scarlet and gold; however, if they were to trade Gould, their ranking would fall dramatically. Wishnowsky was the consensus best punter in the 2019 draft class, and Richie James blossomed into a nice returner—culmintating in a Week 15 kick return TD against the aforementioned Seahawks.

4. Saints

K: Will Lutz

P: Thomas Morstead

KR: Taysom Hill

PR: Marcus Sherels

Pen./G: 1.1875

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 1.7% (9th)

WEI DVOA: 2.8% (tied for 12th)

Don’t be fooled by their 2.8% weighted DVOA: the Saints have some of the best special teams corps in the league, led by standout kicker Will Lutz and aging-yet-still-effective punter Thomas Morstead. I love what Sean Payton has done to transform Taysom Hill into a deadly returner (he would probably rank among the most enjoyable returners to watch), and adding Marcus Sherels as a punt returner will only augment their past special teams success.

Tier 2: Above Average

5. Chiefs

K: Harrison Butker

P: Dustin Colquitt

KR: Tremon Smith

PR: Tyreek Hill

Pen./G: 1.125

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (Hill punt return)

DVOA: 5.6% (2nd)

WEI DVOA: 3.1% (11th)

I was capricious when it comes to putting the Chiefs in the “Elite” echelon, but I think the Tyreek Hill quagmire places them in the subsequent tier. There are still enormous aspersions as to whether or not Hill will suit up this year, but if he does, he is, without a doubt, one of the best returners in the league. Harrison Butker has been solid for Kansas City since joining the squad in 2017, and Smith ranked 12th in average kick return yards.

6. Chargers

K: Mike Badgley

P: Ty Long

KR: Desmond King

PR: Desmond King

Pen./G: 1.3125

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 2 (1 punt return allowed, 1 King punt return)

DVOA: -2.8% (25th)

WEI DVOA: 0.7% (17th)

I was surprised as to how much Badgley flourished as a rookie for the Bolts, making 93.8% of his field goals in 2018. Ty Long punted in the CFL—and averaged a whopping 47.9 yards per boot--but has not been on an NFL team since 2016. Another second-year specialist, Desmond King was especially effective as he earned a 2nd team All-Pro nod and averaged 13.8 yards per return. Holistically, the Chargers are in a good place when it comes to special teams—especially because of their youth.

7. Jaguars

K: Josh Lambo

P: Logan Cooke

KR: DJ Chark

PR: Dede Westbrook

Pen./G: 1.625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (Westbrook punt return)

DVOA: 4.4% (4th)

WEI DVOA: 6.0% (3rd)

The Jags’ 4.4% DVOA and 6.0% weighted DVOA should be a good indication of their 2019 special teams level. Last year, Lambo ranked 8th with a 90.5% field goal percentage, and Cooke averaged 45 yards per punt. When it comes to returners, the Jaguars have some speed in Chark and Westbrook—the latter of whom took a 74 yard punt to the house against the Redskins. However, Doug Marrone should look to better an average of 1.625 special teams penalties/game, which tied for 2nd worst.

8. Titans

K: Ryan Succop

P: Brett Kern

KR: Darius Jennings

PR: Adoree’ Jackson

Pen./G: .5625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 2 (1 kick return allowed, 1 Jennings punt return)

DVOA: 0.8% (13th))

WEI DVOA: -0.5% (22nd)

Kern has quietly established himself as one of the premier punters in the league, as he has been selected to the Pro Bowl the past 2 seasons. Darius Jennings’ whopping 31.7 yards per kick return were best among all qualified kick returners, a trait that can certainly serve as a catalyst for Marcus Mariota and the Titan offense. Tennessee did a nice job of avoiding penalties on special teams plays—a testament to their overall success—and Adoree’ Jackson has filled in nicely in 2 years at punt returner.

9. Giants

K: Aldrick Rosas

P: Riley Dixon

KR: Corey Coleman

PR: Jabrill Peppers

Pen./G: 1.125

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 4.5% (3rd)

WEI DVOA: 7.9% (2nd)

Rosas was simply phenomenal in 2018; his 97% field goal percentage earned him a place on the 2nd team All-Pro roster and garnered him a Pro Bowl nod. Moreover, Dixon had a good year yet should see more work considering the Giants’ likely anemic offense in 2019. Big Blue has capable returners in Coleman and Peppers—two former Cleveland Browns—and their 7.9% weighted DVOA will likely transfer over to this year.

10. Eagles

K: Jake Elliott

P: Cameron Johnston

KR: Corey Clement

PR: Corey Clement

Pen./G: 1.0625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 0.2% (15th))

WEI DVOA: 2.8% (tied for 12th)

To me, Elliott’s field goal percentage is not indicative of his full capabilities—he has only made 83.9% of the kicks in his professional career. However, Cameron Johnston had a really nice rookie year, ranking 3rd in average yards per punt. Corey Clement can definitely infuse some speed and elusiveness into the Philadelphia return game as well.

Patriots K Stephen Gostkowski converted two field goals in Super Bowl 53, both of which helped the Patriots claim their 6th title. Fresh off a new contract, he will continue to lead New England's special teams unit.

11. Patriots

K: Stephen Gostkowski

P: Ryan Allen

KR: Sony Michel

PR: Julian Edelman

Pen./G: 1.625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: .1% (16th)

WEI DVOA: 1.6% (16th)

The Patriots have plenty of household names on their special teams—arguably none other than longtime specialist Matthew Slater—yet their metrics were worse than I anticipated. Gostkowski only made 84.4% of his kicks and is growing older. At the same time, Julian Edelman always seems to be a threat when he has the ball in his hands, and I think Sony Michel will translate his runningback effectiveness to the goal line (or back of the end zone) when receiving kicks.

12. Rams

K: Greg Zuerlein

P: Johnny Hekker

KR: JoJo Natson

PR: JoJo Natson

Pen./G: 1.625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: -0.2% (tied for 17th)

WEI DVOA: 0.6% (18th)

Just like the Pats, the Rams’ Greg Zuerlein and Johnny Hekker have seen plenty of game action over the years. Zuerlein faltered a bit last season, but one could still make the case that Hekker is the best punter as of today. Natson seems to be a better punt returner than kick returner, but he’s still quite quick; venerable special teams coordinator John Fassel should look to ameliorate the 1.625 penalties committed per matchup.

Tier 3: Average

13. Texans

K: Ka’imi Fairbairn

P: Trevor Daniel

KR: DeAndre Carter

PR: DeAndre Carter

Pen./G: 1

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 3.5% (5th)

WEI DVOA: 4.1% (7th)

Fairbairn has been a pleasant surprise for Houston: he bettered his field goal mark two years ago by 8.8% in 2018. Trevor Daniel didn’t perform great as a rookie and has to fill the enormous shoes left by 7-time Pro Bowler Shane Lechler. However, DeAndre Carter seems to be a nice option at kick and punt returner after being acquired from the Eagles.

14. Redskins

K: Dustin Hopkins

P: Tress Way

KR: Danny Johnson

PR: Greg Stroman

Pen./G: .9375

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (punt return allowed)

DVOA: 2.5% (8th)

WEI DVOA: 4.3% (6th)

Hopkins and Way are a nice battery, per se: both are a large reason why the Redskins totaled 2.5% DVOA last year. However, their returners are not outstanding, especially Greg Stroman, who managed a mere 3.4 yards per punt return.

15. Dolphins

K: Jason Sanders

P: Matt Haack

KR: Kenyan Drake

PR: Jakeem Grant

Pen./G: .6875

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 2 (1 kick return TD allowed, Grant kick return TD)

DVOA: -1.1% (21st)

WEI DVOA: -4.3% (30th)

Sanders’ 90% conversion rate on kicks was surprising to me, and Matt Haack has averaged about 44.6 yards/punt in his 2 years in the league—he should certainly see more action this season. Kenyan Drake and Jakeem Grant are both speedy and have a vast arsenal of jukes, but Miami’s -4.3% weighted DVOA is very poor.

16. Lions

K: Matt Prater

P: Sam Martin

KR: Jamal Agnew

PR: Jamal Agnew

Pen./G: 1.375

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (punt return allowed)

DVOA: -0.9% (tied for 19th)

WEI DVOA: 2.1% (15th)

Prater improved his field goal percentage from 2 years ago, boosting it 1.8% to reach 87.5%. Martin has a lot of experience—he stands on firm legs, if you will—and Agnew has shown flashes of greatness as a returner yet only totaled 4.8 yards, on average, after catching punts.

17. Falcons

K: Giorgio Tavecchio

P: Matt Bosher

KR: Kenjon Barner

PR: Kenjon Barner

Pen./G: .6875

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 1.4% (10th)

WEI DVOA: 3.5% (9th)

Good thing that the Falcons inked Tavecchio last October, as he will slot in to be their starting kicker after not resigning veteran Matt Bryant. Bosher ranked 10th in terms of yards per punt; nevertheless, Kenjon Barner averaged 24.4 yards/kick return and 4.1 yards/punt return—for arguably a bonafide specialist, neither is transcendent.

Former Maryland WR DJ Moore will serve as the primary kick returner for Ron Rivera's Panthers in 2019. As a rookie, he averaged 23.8 yards per kick return.

18. Panthers

K: Graham Gano

P: Michael Palardy

KR: DJ Moore

PR: Curtis Samuel

Pen./G: 1

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: -0.2% (tied for 17th)

WEI DVOA: -1.7% (23rd)

I think Gano is one of the most underrated kickers in the league—his 63 yard field goal to sink the Giants serves as an excellent precedent. The Panthers are also stable at punter with Palardy, but Curtis Samuel’s lack of punt returning experience last year could hinder him as the starting returner in 2019.

19. Browns

K: Greg Joseph

P: Britton Colquitt

KR: Dontrell Hilliard

PR: Antonio Callaway

Pen./G: 1.3125

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: -4.2% (31st)

WEI DVOA: -0.1% (21st)

After cutting kicker Zane Gonzalez, the Browns found their guy in Joseph. Hilliard and Callaway should make for nice returners and help to provide a spark for Baker Mayfield’s remade offense. However, Britton Colquitt is aging despite his average of 45.4 yards per punt.

20. Bills

K: Stephen Hauschka

P: Corey Borjoquez

KR: Andre Roberts

PR: Andre Roberts

Pen./G: 1.1875

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 2 scored (KR and PR by Roberts)

DVOA: -5.1% (32nd)

WEI DVOA: -6.6% (32nd)

The Bills are certainly an interesting group. Longtime staring punter Colton Schmidt was replaced by Borjoquez, who performed well. Stephen Hauschka’s elite days in Seattle didn’t exactly translate to his tenure in Buffalo, but this unit should receive a colossal boost in returner Roberts, who was 1st team All-Pro and a Pro Bowler. They’re still situated at average, but look for them to improve their -5.1% DVOA.

21. Raiders

K: Daniel Carlson

P: Johnny Townsend

KR: Dwayne Harris

PR: Dwayne Harris

Pen./G: 1

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 2 (1 punt return allowed, 1 Harris punt return)

DVOA: -1.6% (22nd)

WEI DVOA: 0.5% (19th)

After making 25% of his kicks for the Vikings, Carlson found stability on the Raiders, going 16-17. Dwayne Harris, much like Roberts, is an elite returner—his 14.1 yards per punt return are tied for 1st among qualified players. However, Townsend ranked 31st as a rookie in average yards per punt and may be a liability.

22. Colts

K: Adam Vinatieri

P: Rigoberto Sanchez

KR: Zach Pascal

PR: Chester Rogers

Pen./G: 1.25

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 0.9% (12th)

WEI DVOA: 0.4% (20th)

Adam Vinatieri is arguably the greatest kicker of all time, but his field goal percentage has dwindled since his stellar 2014 season in which he made 96.8% of FG and 100% of extra points. Sanchez was a standout last year, as was Rogers, but Pascal only accumulated an average of 21.2 yards on kick returns.

After spending 7 years in Dallas, Dan Bailey joined the Vikings in 2018. In 2019, he will hope to improve his lackluster 75% field goal percentage a year ago.

23. Vikings

K: Dan Bailey

P: Matt Wile

KR: Ameer Abdullah

PR: Brandon Zylstra

Pen./G: .778

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: -0.9% (tied for 19th)

WEI DVOA: 2.3% (14th)

What happened to Dan Bailey? In 2015, he converted 93.8% of his kicks and was named a Pro Bowler, but since then he has had more than a case of the yips. Ameer Abdullah will continue to seek revenge against his former—and now rival—Lions, but Brandon Zylstra could be a concern having only returned 4 punts in-game prior to this season. At the same time, Mike Zimmer should gain serenity knowing that his team’s special teams penalties/contest rate was best in the NFL.

24. Cowboys

K: Brett Maher

P: Chris Jones

KR: Jourdan Lewis

PR: Tavon Austin

Pen./G: 1.1875

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: -2.1% (23rd)

WEI DVOA: -2.2% (25th)

As a rookie, Maher hit on 97% of extra points but didn’t maintain the same level of excellence on field goals. Chris Jones has improved since he entered the league in 2011, but Tavon Austin’s ludicrous acceleration and absurd speed (his out-of-this-world college highlights can be found here) have largely waned. Moreover, Lewis only returned 2 kicks last year for an average of 19 yards.

25. Bears

K: Elliott Fry (?)

P: Pat O’Donnell

KR: Cordarrelle Patterson

PR: Tarik Cohen

Pen./G: 1

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 2 (1 kick return, 1 Patterson kick return)

DVOA: -3.2% (26th)

WEI DVOA: -4.1% (29th)

The Bears have an analogous situation to the Bills; if this were just a ranking of returners, the Bears would be #1 with a devastating duo in Patterson and Cohen. Pat O’Donnell seems to be coming into his own, but the Bears’ kicking scenario is undoubtedly the worst in the league. Do they just have a curse at making 43-yard field goals? Whatever it is, I have very little faith in Chicago’s kicking staff.

26. Cardinals

K: Zane Gonzalez

P: Andy Lee

KR: Christian Kirk

PR: Brandon Williams

Pen./G: 1.0625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 1% (11th)

WEI DVOA: 3.2% (10th)

Lee is the saving grace for this Cardinals unit, as his 48.6 yards/punt were first in the league. However, the rest of the special teams is subpar: I discussed Gonzalez’s woes with Cleveland earlier, and nascent head coach Kliff Kingsbury will send out two returners who both have no experience at their specific positions.

Tier 4: Below Average

27. Bengals

K: Randy Bullock

P: Kevin Huber

KR: Alex Erickson

PR: Alex Erickson

Pen./G: 1.5

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (punt return allowed)

DVOA: 2.6% (7th)

WEI DVOA: 5.4% (5th)

Since parting ways with Mike Nugent in 2016, Bullock has staffed the Bengals’ kicker position but ranked 22nd in field goal percentage in 2018. Likewise, Huber’s average of 43.9 yards per punt was 27th in the league. The silver lining for the Bengals is Erickson, who has developed nicely in the last few years—he averaged 10.6 yards/punt return last season. Don’t be fooled: the Bengals’ 5.4% DVOA is largely a façade.

28. Packers

K: Mason Crosby

P: JK Scott

KR: Trevor Davis

PR: Trevor Davis

Pen./G: 1.625

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (kick return allowed)

DVOA: -4.1% (tied for 28th)

WEI DVOA: -2.9% (26th)

Although Scott is a rookie and should man the punter position for a lengthy period, the opposite is true for Mason Crosby, who infamously missed 3 field goals in a single game against Detroit. But Green Bay’s woes continue into their return game in which new coach Matt LaFleur has slotted Trevor Davis—with only 1 kick return and 4 punt returns last year—into the starting kick and punt returner spots. Simply put, this unit struggled mightly in 2018—evidenced by committing 1.625 penalties per game—and should stagnate in 2019.

Lachlan Edwards is one of several Australian punters in the NFL. Despite his abilities, the Jets project to have one of the worst special teams units in the league.

29. Jets

K: Chandler Catanzaro

P: Lachlan Edwards

KR: Trenton Cannon

PR: Trenton Cannon

Pen./G: 1

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: 8.1% (1st)

WEI DVOA: 8.8% (1st)

Just like the Bengals, the Jets’ wonderful 8.1% DVOA and 8.8% weighted DVOA—both of which paced the league—are not indicative of how their 2019 special teams will perform. In a bizarre move, Gang Green decided not to return the aforementioned returner Roberts and will instead send out Trenton Cannon, in only his second year and with 1 punt return. Edwards was a pleasant surprise last season, but Catanzaro will have work to do to fill the spot left by leg-endary (get it?) Jason Myers last year.

30. Broncos

K: Brandon McManus

P: Colby Wadman

KR: Devontae Booker

PR: River Cracraft

Pen./G: 1.125

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (punt return allowed)

DVOA: -4.2% (30th))

WEI DVOA: -4.6% (31st))

Denver’s special teams were porous last year, and they will be similar this campaign. After making 75% of his 2017 field goals, McManus only hit at an 80% clip in 2018; furthermore, his long field goal of 53 yards should presumably be higher considering the incredibly thin Mile High Stadium air. But Denver will incur additional issues in the return game, where River Cracraft—who mustered 3.3 yards/punt return—will continue to be the starting PR.

31. Steelers

K: Chris Boswell

P: Jordan Berry

KR: Ryan Switzer

PR: Ryan Switzer

Pen./G: 1.6875

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 1 (punt return TD allowed)

DVOA: -3.5% (27th))

WEI DVOA: -3.0% (27th))

As a Steelers fan, it pained me to witness coordinator Danny Smith’s special teams corps last season. After a breakout 2017, Chris Boswell was abysmal in 2018. The addition of Ryan Switzer added some flare to Pittsburgh’s return game, but he only averaged 20.2 yards per kick return, which ranked 74th. The Steelers must improve their mark of penalties committed per matchup—as well as revitalize Boswell—in order to reach their lofty 2019 standards.

32. Buccaneers

K: Matt Gay

P: Bradley Pinion

KR: Dare Ogunbowale

PR: Dare Ogunbowale

Pen./G: 1

TDs (Allowed/Scored): 0

DVOA: -4.1% (tied for 28th)

WEI DVOA: -3.7% (28th)

And, finally, we have the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. After the travails of Roberto Aguayo and Chandler Catanzaro, the Bucs drafted Matt Gay out of Utah—we have no true idea as to how he will perform. Former 49er Pinion, furthermore, ranked 28th in average yards per punt. But perhaps the ultimate purveyor of Tampa Bay’s floundering is slotting Dare Ogunbowale at kick and punt returner despite averaging 19.6 yards/kick return and having 0 in-game reps at returning punts. Sorry, Bucs fans, but your special teams are the worst in the NFL as we currently stand.

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