Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

19 Aug 2006

FO Ranks All 32 Teams on FOX: Special Teams

And now, the moment you've been waiting for ... an article where Buffalo and Cleveland rank in the top five!

Posted by: Mike Tanier on 19 Aug 2006

49 comments, Last at 29 Aug 2006, 1:27pm by PackMan


by Trogdor (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 1:09pm

So how high will the Browns rank when their long snappers all either blow out their knees, get suspended, or retire?

by the K (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 2:51pm

I really hoped you guys would have the Bills #1 before I clicked this link. Way to stand behind your DVOA, good form!

But, seriously hnow, if anything, I'm a bit surprised by the drop of Houston to #11. I realize they lost Mathis but was he the sole reason they ranked #2 in DVOA? What happens if we take Mathis out of the equation and replace him with an average KR...say whoever ranked 16th in the league last year? Does that drop Houston to 11th in DVOA?

by JasonK (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 6:11pm

This might be ridiculously nitpicky, but is there any reason why the teams ranked 1, 2, 3, and 11 are referred to by city and team name while all the other are listed only by their team name?

by Travis (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 6:23pm

Hooray. Another category where the Jets rank near the bottom. (FWIW, the highest FO puts a Jet position is 21st, for wide receivers.)

It's going to be a long season.

by centrifuge (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 6:32pm

As a Pittsburgher, I have little bad to say about Antwaan Randle El, but I would contest calling him "decisive."

Actually, I take that back. Given the choice between running 7 yards straight forward for a 7-yard return, or running 25 yards sideways for a 4-yard return, he will decisively choose the latter.

by jonnyblazin (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 7:06pm

"Rookie Sam Koch should replace Zastudil; Koch averaged an NCAA-record 46.5 yards per punt in 2005, but young punters often face a major adjustment when they enter the NFL."

I don't doubt the validity of this, I'm just wondering why. I don't think they have to get rid of the ball any faster, and the football is pretty much the same.

by MJK (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 7:39pm

You mean the Pats end up ranked so low? In spite of VINCE WILFORK, PUNT RETURNER!!!


by Doug Farrar :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 7:39pm

I might suggest dinking the Seahawks even more for two reasons: First-year special teams coach Bob Casullo sanctioned the release of young punters Chris Kluwe and Donnie Jones in favor of veteran Leo Araguz, who was soon released. Seattle had to re-sign Tom Rouen in a desperation move. Rouen couldn't have hurt the Seahawks more in the Super Bowl if he'd worn a striped shirt and a whistle, while Kluwe and Jones were both great with MIN and MIA, respectively.

Also, Jimmy Williams did a bit more than call fair catches - he made every catch an adventure and fumbled twice.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 7:47pm

Yay! Dolphins at #2!

Also, PFP arrived today... so I'm extra happy... :D :D

by Sergio (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 7:50pm

And re:8, Jones wasn't "great" in Miami. The coverage was great; Jones was, well, decent.

An improvement over Rouen, could be, but not "great"...

by Doug Farrar :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 7:54pm

An improvement over Rouen. Trust me.

by Insancipitory (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 10:00pm

When I was at the Seahawks training camp out in the middle of seriously nowhere they had a bunch of people looking pretty good returning kicks. So I don't think it's exactly Warrick or bust. However, yeah, the Seahawks are rated too high, even considering Plackemeier's potential.

Jimmy Willams fumbled twice, and Scobey once just in the Divisional matchup with the Redskins. And we were probably lucky to get away with that considering what they were doing. I remember this clearly as the hair I was tearing out at the time has yet to grow back.

Then there's the loss of Bannister with his perpetually breaking collarbone is significant too in that were he to be healthy, the special teams coverate might return to its former glory.

Or perhaps I'm greatly under-valuing Josh Brown's range.

by lastchance (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 10:02pm

Ok, Seattle has probably the best team in the NFC, a team that nearly dominated the Super Bowl last year, and we can't find a decent punter or kick returner. -_-

by the peepshow (not verified) :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 11:10pm

I was reading some training camp reports for the Seahawks, and they were saying that in practice Plackemeier was kicking up to 75 yards. If he can replicate that in a game, or kick as high as he can long, the Seahawks may have a special advantage on that side of the ball.

by Doug Farrar :: Sat, 08/19/2006 - 11:22pm

Plackemeier looked good in his pro debut - 5 punts for a 46.6 avg. and three inside the 20.

by Vash (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 12:11am

7: He's so big the gunners bounce off him?

by Sergio (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 1:46am

Aw please. The Seahawks are prime material for the NFC championship. You'd think you guys could stop worrying about the punter...

Was the guy THAT terrible? I haven't read the Seattle chapter of the book, but I don't think it can be *that* bad...

by Doug Farrar :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 1:57am

Read Aaron's article about Tom Rouen in the Seattle chapter. It was that bad.

by MJK (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 2:11am

Re 16,

Hmmm, that might work...

Actually I was referring to something else. Apparently, at the end of practice the other day, Belichick gave the Pats an odd deal. Vince Wilfork had to try to catch a Josh Miller punt one-handed (while holding another football in the other). If he succeeded, the entire team could skip evening meetings. If not, they had their meetings and also had to do laps. Maybe a team building thing? Anyway, Wilfork caught the punt, despite having to backpeadal about 15 yards, and Belichick joked in his next press conference that the Patriots had found their new punt returner.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 2:04pm

How exactly did the Bengals get a #5 ranking? They were 14th in the league last year, 7th the year before, 15th the year before that. They didn't even show strong seasonal improvement - their weighted DVOA is worse than their regular-season DVOA, and their ranking sounds more like a criticism than praise (poor punter, poor punt returner). Ditto with the Browns.

I'll buy Buffalo and Miami #1/#2, and maybe the Giants #3 (although, again, their special teams went down significantly over the season after the flash-in-the-pan start), but I don't see how the Eagles can be ranked lower than 4.

Especially lower than Cincinnati. Cincinnati was barely ranked higher than them in full-season DVOA last year, but Philly's weighted DVOA was second in the league, and Cincy's was 20th.

When you've got a team that's been as consistent on special teams as Philly has, and then last year they clearly get back to normal over the season, I can't see how anyone could expect them to be anything but back in the top 3 or so.

I really don't understand Cincy's rating being that high. The special teams coach made the punter look better? To the tune of a -4.9 in PUNT ST DVOA, in a year when punters were having career years?

by Riceloft (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 7:41pm

I wouldn't worry about the missed extra points by Phil Dawson last year. He played through the season with a sports hernia. Click my name.

by Mike Tanier :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 11:11pm

Here's some of the reasoning behind the rankings:

The Texans: They were ranked fifth or 6th before I knew the extent of Mathis' injury. A look at the depth chart showed no one who looked like an "impact" kick returner. Kris Brown isn't really a plus as a kicker, so I slid them down about yaaaay far.

The Bengals: One of the elements of special teams that correlates reasonably well from year to year is kickoff performance, so Graham is a plus. Tab Perry looked very good several times whenI saw him last year. There are a lot of guys on the roster who look like good gunner types, and I had them 6th or 7th at first, but they just sort of shifted up.

Eagles: 1) Minor worries about the chance that an Akers injury will re-occur, as he really has been banged up for 2 years. 2) Reno Mahe. 3) Reno Mahe. 4) Reno Mahe. Seriously, Mahe isnt terrible, but the sense that there isn't a dynamic, Holy Cow return man in the fold made me downgrade them a little. Plus, they keep losing gunners, although they replace them every year.

Anyway, it's special teams, and I was balancing everything as best I could and making lots of educated guesses. About half the writing time was spent editing the Falcons comment everytime the cut a kicker.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 11:50pm

Graham's looked decent, sure, but

Two years? When was Akers injured in 2004? He played all 16 games, and certainly didn't struggle either with kickoffs or field goals. He was listed as "probable" with a left hip injury for two weeks in 2004, and that's it. That... doesn't seem "banged up" to me.

Really, I'd love to hate Reno Mahe - I would. He just seems like such a pedestrian punt returner. I'd love to see just his ST DVOA, though, because I've got a feeling that he was very above average. It's the Tatum Bell/Mike Anderson argument all over again, I think. Leading the NFC in punt return average, when you're not breaking long runs, means that you're probably gaining a fair amount of extra yards each possession.

by Pat (not verified) :: Sun, 08/20/2006 - 11:53pm

Graham’s looked decent, sure, but

Bleah. Just ignore that.

by Luke (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 1:31am

Ben Graham (aka Benny the Cat - ex Geelong Cats Full Back/Centre Half Back/Centre Half Forward in the AFL {Australian Football League - Premier Aussie Rules competition} for 10+ years) can kick the bejesus out of the ball. Plus his drop punts are difficult for opposing PRs to handle cleanly.

Look out for a bloke by the name of Sav Rocca in the next year or 2.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 10:07am

So the Eagles have "the best special teams coordinator in the league", "the best all-around kicker in the NFL", and two "standouts on coverage units that have excelled over the past five seasons" but they're still only ranked 6th? It seems like people only remember the early-season ST last year. There is no way in hell they should be ranked any lower than 3rd.

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 11:42am

I think it's because Mike Tanier's a little too close to the situation. Every Eagles fan I know just has to hate Reno Mahe. It's like a rite of passage. :)

Like I said, I'd really like to know what just his ST PUNT RET DVOA was. His biggest return game came against pretty awful punt coverage (Seattle's), so maybe he was just mediocre, but Philly with average punt returners is still the 2nd or 3rd (at worst) best special teams out there.

At this point I'm pretty positive Bloom will be stashed on IR for the season, which is too bad, because he looked like he'd be one hell of a returner. Kid just looked fearless, and it looked like on a normal return, he'd give starting field position near the 30 every single kickoff. But to be honest, J.R. Reed didn't look that bad, just... normal.

I'm feeling fine about Philly's special teams this year. Especially compared to where they were last year.

by Devin McCullen (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 12:11pm

I'm not arguing about it, but it still feels VERY weird to see the Giants with a highly-ranked special teams unit. Proof to all GMs out there that you can fix your special teams, and relatively quickly, too.

by dbt (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 1:31pm

I hate reading the blurbs ripping Gould (bears PK) for not hitting a FG over 40 or whatever last year. He nailed a 52+ yarder against MIN in the regular season finale that was only called back for an irrelevant penalty, and he's looked much better this year with an entire offseason to prepare for NFL kicking. I think he'll surprise some people.

by Sophandros (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 1:59pm

22: It's a good thing that Houston drafted Reggie...oh, wait.

Also, I think that Michael Lewis will not be wearing a Saints uniform this fall.

by mactbone (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 2:02pm

Don't you remember the adventure that was last year though? Early in the year there were no gimme kicks. He definitely improved over the year and from what I've heard and seen it looks like he's made strides but I don't think you can just dismiss last year.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 2:18pm

Re: 27

Yeah, sometimes it kinda seems like MT backs off the Eagles a little more than he has to just so that he doesn't have to put up with a bunch of idiots screaming that he's a homer. I know every time I post something I find myself having to make a conscious effort to remain rational, but then I remember that I'm not a journalist so I can be as homer-riffic as I feel like. ;-)

by Dash (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 2:44pm

Darnell Dinkins - playing for the Browns and the Ravens at the same time? Does this make him the ultimate ST player?

by Mikey (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 5:34pm

Great effort with this series.

Just for mindless entertainment value, could you post the average ranking of each team across all categories?

by Sergio (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 7:10pm


PIT 4 8 11 11 3 1 6 8 6.5
SEA 3 1 2 4 2 4 21 22 7.375
CIN 6 4 4 2 30 7 2 5 7.5
DEN 5 15 14 1 15 8 1 19 9.75
WAS 13 3 13 6 10 18 7 14 10.5
KC 7 5 7 5 12 20 16 15 10.875
NE 2 10 10 7 7 13 13 27 11.125
NYG 18 9 15 15 5 6 22 3 11.625
CAR 15 19 8 12 4 17 8 10 11.625
BAL 12 6 18 20 11 12 10 13 12.75
MIA 10 18 23 9 8 9 26 2 13.125
SD 22 2 5 13 14 3 32 21 14
PHI 8 21 28 16 6 19 9 6 14.125
CHI 27 7 32 18 1 2 3 23 14.125
IND 1 26 3 3 16 30 14 24 14.625
DAL 21 22 1 19 22 15 5 18 15.375
TB 20 12 20 24 13 5 4 28 15.75
ATL 16 13 19 10 26 16 18 25 17.875
JAX 9 30 26 21 17 14 17 12 18.25
MIN 31 14 17 8 18 27 15 17 18.375
ARI 14 11 6 32 21 22 24 20 18.75
CLE 25 23 25 14 28 21 11 4 18.875
NO 11 16 29 17 20 32 25 7 19.625
TEN 28 28 24 25 9 11 23 16 20.5
BUF 32 20 31 22 29 10 20 1 20.625
STL 17 24 9 28 19 25 31 31 23
GB 19 31 16 29 25 24 12 32 23.5
OAK 30 17 12 23 27 26 30 29 24.25
DET 24 27 27 26 23 28 19 26 25
HOU 23 25 22 31 31 29 29 11 25.125
SF 29 29 30 30 24 31 28 9 26.25
NYJ 26 32 21 27 32 23 27 30 27.25

I really hope it's not screwed up when it's posted, looked OK in the preview.

Yes, I have way too much time on my hands.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 7:12pm

Aw, hell. Just the averages then:

PIT 6.5
SEA 7.375
CIN 7.5
DEN 9.75
WAS 10.5
KC 10.875
NE 11.125
NYG 11.625
CAR 11.625
BAL 12.75
MIA 13.125
SD 14
PHI 14.125
CHI 14.125
IND 14.625
DAL 15.375
TB 15.75
ATL 17.875
JAX 18.25
MIN 18.375
ARI 18.75
CLE 18.875
NO 19.625
TEN 20.5
BUF 20.625
STL 23
GB 23.5
OAK 24.25
DET 25
HOU 25.125
SF 26.25
NYJ 27.25

by Pat (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 8:07pm

Wow. Other than a few outliers (the Colts, the Jaguars are too low, the Chiefs are probably too high, Baltimore, Miami are probably a shade high) that's, uh, not a bad ordering.

Of course, considering them all as equal importance is probably why some of those exist.

by Sergio (not verified) :: Mon, 08/21/2006 - 9:10pm

Indeed. Perhaps adding a percentage to each department would help (particularly with the ST department).

Of course, all this means is that no team is strong in every phase of the game. No team cracks the top 10 in every category - though Pittsburgh came damn close, with ratings of 4, 8, 11, 11, 3, 1, 6 and 8.

A question: Do these rankings came from subjective appreciation, DVOA, or some other stat-based analysis? I'm asking because maybe DVOA is the way to go here (maybe putting the front-7 together) or is it simply impossible to predict/project DVOA? Particularly individual DVOA...

Or is DPAR the way to go?

by Jerry (not verified) :: Tue, 08/22/2006 - 3:51am

I'm amazed that there was no mention of Sean Morey.

by steelberger1 (not verified) :: Tue, 08/22/2006 - 8:04am

Re 5:

I totally agree. I will admit that there was always a chance for Randle El to break a big one, but it used to *&%^ me off to no end when he would catch the ball, dance around for 5 seconds, then lose 3 yards.

by Wanker79 (not verified) :: Tue, 08/22/2006 - 10:15am

Sergio, all of the unit rankings are a combination of a few things. FO stats are definitely considered, but so are some more subjective opinions about offseason moves, how players will be effected by age, and stuff like that. With as many variables that change from year-to-year, going off DVOA or DPAR alone just won't cut it.

by Mikey (not verified) :: Tue, 08/22/2006 - 12:18pm

Sergio, thanks for going to the trouble.

I agree that overall it's a pretty credible ranking. I think Indy's RBs and JAX's WRs will prove to be closer to league-average, which would bump them a little higher, but overall not bad.

Based on these rankings, this year's playoff seedings would be:



Mathematically it's tough to have two wildcards from the same division, but really that's as good a guess as any at the post-season.

by Bjorn (not verified) :: Tue, 08/22/2006 - 9:18pm

Former CFL standout Jon Ryan is beating Sander in camp.

If anybody on these messageboards ever listened to me, NOBODY WOULD BE SURPRISED! :P

Anyways, if there were betting lines on players making teams, I would have gone out and bet money on Jon Ryan making the Packers (I would have won, because Sander was cut yesterday. I can't link 2 stories, but the story is on Packers.com.) He averaged over 50 yards per punt for crying out loud! With a bigger football!

But he does have his problems. Last year, he had a very slow release. This resulted in a high number of block opportunities. This is something that is easily remedied, though. Another problem with Ryan is the habits that he has picked up in the CFL. In the CFL there is no fair catch rule. Instead, the coverage team (except the punter) has to give the returner a five yard cushion until he actually picks up the ball. Not doing so can result in a 5 yard or 15 yard foul, depending on intent. As such, if you can boot it 60 yards (plus another 20 yards of bouncing) hangtime doesn't matter. When he did kick it right to a returner, he would usually get a free 10 yard head start, but Ryan was kicking them long enough that they would just get back to the average punt of an average kicker anyways. Despite this, Ryan averaged 3.80 seconds of hangtime in the CFL, whereas Sander averaged 4.04. That statistic is included in the linked article, written by an obviously pro Sander writer. The other major flaw that Ryan could have a problem with is the width of the field. With the wider CFL field, lack of accuracy is less of a problem. He didn't seem to show a penchant for inaccurate kicks, he's quite good at angling it out of bounds for maximum yardage, but it would a general problem for CFL punters jumping to the NFL. On the other hand, it could be an advantage for Ryan as well, since the narrower field means that he has the opportunity to kick out of bounds further up the field. Anyhoo, onto the Pro side of the Jon Ryan equation.

Jon Ryan is a good tackler with great wheels. Don't be surprised if you see him run down a returner from behind, which he did last year. Another big advantage is the power in his leg. If he kicks for hangtime, he will get hangtime. The biggest plus is that all of his drawbacks are easily fixable with pratice and coaching.

In short, he is a 24 year old punter with an extremely long leg, rough technique, and good accuracy. He has the potential to be one of the best punters of the modern NFL era.

by Bjorn (not verified) :: Tue, 08/22/2006 - 9:34pm

Here is the link to the news release regarding Sander that I mentioned.

by Mark (not verified) :: Wed, 08/23/2006 - 1:22am

Found a great site with their own list.. easy to use for your pre-draft research... not sure about Tiki #4.

GreatSportsNews.com Top 300 Fantasy List

by bengt (not verified) :: Wed, 08/23/2006 - 5:29am

#38:Indeed. Perhaps adding a percentage to each department would help
Probably not much, since the basic shortcoming of calculating average ranks is the following: The difference in 'quality measure' between teams is always n*1. Even if they are in fact almost as good, or one is by far better than the next best one. Much like the old system in ice skating.

by C (not verified) :: Fri, 08/25/2006 - 12:05pm

Re: #6, doesn't the NFL use much harder footballs for kicking? I seem to vaguely recall that the NCAA let kickers work over the special kicking balls so they are easier to kick, while the NFL doesn't, and uses balls straight from the box. If that's true, that could be a big difference.

by PackMan (not verified) :: Tue, 08/29/2006 - 1:26pm

Kinda thought we would be last on this one too, after losing Longwell in FA.

by PackMan (not verified) :: Tue, 08/29/2006 - 1:27pm

Sorry for the double post.
But to make it even worse, that Rayner guy isn't even on Madden 07!