Special Teams Tackles 2012

Special Teams Tackles 2012
Special Teams Tackles 2012
Photo: USA Today Sports Images

by Aaron Schatz

Let's continue our series presenting various 2012 stats from the multitude of Football Outsiders spreadsheets. Today, we'll look at special teams tackles.

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.

Last year's leading tackler on special teams was Lorenzo Alexander, who was with Washington in 2012 but signed in Arizona this offseason. Alexander had 21 return tackles, the fourth straight year that his total went up: it was six in 2009, nine in 2010, and 14 in 2011. Second-year linebacker Spencer Paysinger of the Giants finished second with 20 tackles, and undrafted rookie safety Johnson Bademosi of Cleveland was third.

A number of the top tacklers of the last few years finished tied for fifth with 16 return tackles. Farwell is the top special teams gunner of the last three seasons, with 50 combined tackles since 2010. Matthew Slater has 44 combined tackles over the last three years, and Dan Skuta has 42.

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.

Alexander and Slater tied for the league lead with 16 Return Stops last year, and in a surprising example of the Pro Bowl getting something completely right, the two players were chosen as the Pro-Bowl special-teamers for the NFC and AFC. Slater was particularly impressive with a Return Stop on all 16 of his tackles. Bademosi was third with 15 Stops in his 17 tackles. Other impressive ratios:

  • Buster Skrine of Cleveland and Eric Frampton of Dallas each had 12 tackles which all were Stops.
  • Ramon Humber of New Orleans had 10 tackles, all for Stops.
  • Tahir Whitehead of Detroit had 11 tackles, 10 of which were Stops.

Here's a look at all players with at least a dozen return tackles in 2012, plus the team leaders for any team where no player had at least 12 return tackles.

NFL Leaders in Return Tackles, 2012
Player Team Return
97-L.Alexander WAS 21 16 76%
52-S.Paysinger NYG 20 13 65%
31-C.Brown PIT 18 9 65%
37-J.Bademosi CLE 17 15 88%
18-M.Slater NE 16 16 100%
55-H.Farwell SEA 16 13 81%
51-D.Skuta CIN 16 10 63%
37-R.Doughty WAS 15 12 80%
24-J.Bush GB 15 11 73%
26-T.Brock SF 15 10 67%
50-B.Braman HOU 15 9 60%
Player Team Return
55-A.Albright DAL 13 11 85%
58-A.Palmer DET 13 11 85%
51-B.Ayanbadejo BAL 13 9 69%
45-J.Miles CIN 13 8 62%
49-R.Francois GB 13 8 62%
29-R.Mundy PIT 13 7 54%
57-J.Nading HOU 13 7 54%
22-A.Ball HOU 13 6 46%
Player Team Return
22-B.Skrine CLE 12 12 100%
27-E.Frampton DAL 12 12 100%
31-J.Bethel ARI 12 10 83%
38-A.Blake JAC 12 10 83%
22-T.Jones OAK 12 9 75%
23-R.McLeod STL 12 9 75%
42-C.Jones CAR 12 8 67%
25-D.Stuckey SD 12 7 58%
53-J.Phillips CAR 12 7 58%
93-J.Trusnik MIA 12 5 42%
16-B.Smith BUF 12 4 33%

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Other Team Leaders in Return Tackles, 2012
Player Team Return
51-R.James ATL 10 8 80%
24-C.Hope ATL 10 6 60%
38-Z.Bowman CHI 9 8 89%
31-O.Bolden DEN 8 6 75%
56-N.Irving DEN 8 6 75%
35-J.Lefeged IND 11 9 82%
99-E.Jones KC 7 6 86%
58-T.McKenzie MIN 11 8 73%
53-R.Humber NO 10 10 100%
15-C.Roby NO 10 6 60%
54-N.Bellore NYJ 10 8 80%
56-A.Jordan PHI 10 6 60%
56-D.Watson TB 7 6 86%
41-E.Lorig TB 7 5 71%
84-T.Thompson TEN 10 6 60%

The cleanup winner of the year? Brad Smith, who had 12 return tackles but only four Stops. Three times, he saved a touchdown by tackling a punt returner after a return of more than 20 yards.

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.

(Ed. Note: The original numbers in this article had Curtis Brown too low; that has now been fixed.)


6 comments, Last at 24 Jun 2013, 11:30am

#1 by CBPodge // May 29, 2013 - 11:39am

I'm hugely disappointed that no team was led by their kicker or punter here.

Points: 0

#2 by Bill (not verified) // May 29, 2013 - 1:10pm

Is there any way to average the return statistics for the number of kicks and punts actually returned? For instance, Denver had 101 total punts and kickoffs returned, while Houston had 150. That's a big difference in chances for special teams tacklers.

Also, some special teamers may cause more fair catches than others, by beating their blocks and getting downfield faster. they get no credit for that, but of course sometimes it's the punter who causes the fair catch.

Points: 0

#3 by Christine Chapman (not verified) // Jun 02, 2013 - 7:53am

Alexander and Slater tied for the league lead with 16 Return Stops last year and what about this year? Thank you for giving us the scores

Points: 0

#4 by Not Jimmy (not verified) // Jun 07, 2013 - 3:21pm

Where does Nate Ebner fall in here? He had 12 ST tackles last year, but isn't lested...

Points: 0

#5 by hair // Jun 13, 2013 - 5:53am


Points: 0

#6 by bengt (not verified) // Jun 24, 2013 - 11:30am

Whatever you tried to fix with Curtis Brown's numbers: nine stops out of 18 tackles is not a stop rate of 65%.
But it is nice to know that he is again among the top special team tacklers.

Points: 0

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