by Aaron Schatz
Let's continue our series presenting various 2011 stats from the multitude of Football Outsiders spreadsheets. Today, we'll look at special teams tackles, both last year and over a three-year period.
Return Tackles are simple: The total number of tackles (and assists) that a player makes on kick and punt returns. This doesn't count onside kicks or end-of-half squib kicks.
Seattle's Heath Farwell led all special teams players with 21 tackles in 2011. He also led in percent of team tackles, being in on 22 percent of all kickoff and punt returns against Seattle. Eric Frampton was second with 20 tackles, and Akeem Dent of Atlanta (who may be taking over for Curtis Lofton as the starting middle linebacker in 2012) was third with 19. However, if we look at percent of team tackles, Lorenzo Alexander of Washington was actually second; he had 14 tackles, but that was 21.2 percent of the returns against Washington. Dent would still be third.
Of course, it isn't enough to just make the tackle on a return. You want to get downfield and tackle that return man before he has a chance to get his team great field position. That's where the Return Stop comes in.
The special teams ratings on Football Outsiders analyze kickoffs and punts by looking at each return compared to an average return, with a baseline based both the length of the kick/punt and the yard line where the return man catches the ball. You can read more about the system here.
When a coverage player made it downfield to get a tackle (or assist) that stopped a return for less-than-average value, we gave him a Return Stop. That includes any time a defender stripped the ball for a fumble, although it doesn't include downing punts that don't get returns.
Farwell and Dent also led the league with 16 Return Stops each last year. In fact, no other player had more than 13. Among the more impressive ratios: C.J. Spillman of San Francisco had 13 Stops out of 15 Tackles; Akeem Jordan of Philadelphia had 12 Stops out of 13 Tackles; Eric Weems of Atlanta had 11 Stops out of 12 Tackles.
Corey Graham, who led the league with 23 Return Tackles in 2010, had only 11 last season.
Here's a look at all players with at least a dozen Return Tackles in 2011, plus the team leaders for any team where no player had at least 15 Return Tackles.
|NFL Leaders in Return Tackles, 2011|
|Other Team Leaders in Return Tackles, 2011|
Colts punter/kickoff specialist Pat McAfee also led the league with five Return Saves. This is defined as the total number of tackles (or assists) a player makes on:
a) any kickoff return that goes past the 50-yard line, or
b) any punt return of more than 20 yards
In other words, who makes plays that save touchdowns? Rashad Johnson of the Cardinals was second with four Return Saves.
Here's a list of the players with the most Return Tackles over the past three years combined:
|Leaders in Total Return Tackles, 2009-2011|
One note on these stats: We haven't yet added the ability to correct for plays which are shortened by penalty; in other words, if a player makes a tackle on a long return, and that return gets shortened due to a holding penalty, the player ends up listed with a tackle on the shorter yardage. Trying to fix this issue is on our future to do list.