Rick Gosselin’s 2018 NFL Special Teams Rankings
First crown for Jets special teams coach Brant Boyer
(Published February 2019)
The New York Jets fired head coach Todd Bowles after a 4-12 season. But they weren’t about to let one of his coaches out the door.
Two weeks after firing Bowles and two days after hiring Adam Gase to replace him, the Jets extended the contract of special-teams coach Brant Boyer. For good reason – as bad as the 4-12 Jets were this season on offense (29th in the NFL) and defense (25th), they were the polar opposite on special teams.
The Jets finished first in the NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin for the last 40 years. The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. The Jets compiled 231 points to finish 12 ½ points better than the runnerup New Orleans Saints.
Keeping Boyer was as logical as it was wise. There is an obvious correlation between special-teams play and team success on Sundays. The top two seeds in the playoffs – New Orleans in the NFC and Kansas City in the AFC – finished second and third respectively in special teams. Six of the eight division champions finished in the Top 11 in special teams, including NFC champion the Los Angeles Rams at nine and the AFC champion New England Patriots at 11.
“I talk to my players about all three phases working together to win games,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “Be a contributor. We have players on our team that are on the game-day roster because of their abilities to play on special teams. Field position is important in the NFL game. There’s no better way to secure field position than being able to play good special teams.”
The Jets were Boyer’s first full-time gig as a special-teams coach. He inherited the NFL’s 31st ranked special-teams unit when he arrived in 2016 and began a rapid ascent. His Jets finished 30th in special teams in 2016, 20th in 2017 and, finally, first this season. The Jets finished first in five categories and in the Top 5 in seven others. Two of his players, kicker Jason Myers and returner Andre Roberts, were voted to the Pro Bowl.
Sitting atop the annual special-teams rankings is a familiar spot for Boyer. In 1997, he made a franchise-record 25 tackles in the kicking game to help the Jacksonville Jaguars finish first in the NFL in special teams.
Boyer carved out a 10-year career in the NFL as a special-teams ace with the Dolphins, Jaguars and Browns. He was a special teams captain for all three teams and left Jacksonville after six seasons with a franchise-record 94 special-teams tackles. In five of his 10 seasons his team finished in the Top 10 in these rankings.
The 19-spot improvement by the Jets from a year ago represented the third-largest jump in this year’s rankings. The Arizona Cardinals climbed from 30th in 2017 to fifth in 2018 and the AFC South champion Houston Texans moved from 26th in 2017 to sixth in 2018.
The rise of the Texans was expected after hiring Brad Seely. He is one of only two special-teams coaches to finish first in these rankings three times and he did it with three different teams – Indianapolis in 1992, Cleveland in 2009 and San Francisco in 2011. He also won three Super Bowl rings as special-teams coach of the Patriots.
The Cardinals also fired their head coach Steve Wilks this month but new coach Kliff Kingsbury opted to retain special-teams coach Jeff Rodgers. Like Seely, Rodgers engineered the dramatic turnaround of Arizona’s special teams in his first season on the job.
The strength of the New Orleans special teams was their kickers, Will Lutz (placements) and Thomas Morstead (punts). The strength of the Kansas City special teams was its return game featuring Tyreek Hill and Tremon Smith.
Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:
Best: Tennessee 32.0 yards
Worst: Chicago 19.1 yards
Best: NY Jets 13.0 yards
Worst: Denver 4.4 yards
Best: Jacksonville 17.8 yards
Worst: Tennessee 27.8 yards
Best: Indianapolis 4.4 yards
Worst: Pittsburgh 14.4 yards
KICKOFF STARTING POINT
Best: NY Jets 28.1-yard line
Worst: Chicago 23.4-yard line
OPPONENT STARTING POINT
Best: Detroit 23.8-yard line
Worst: New England 27.1-yard line
Best: Arizona 48.6 yards
Worst: LA Chargers 42.6 yards
Best: New Orleans 43.2 yards
Worst: LA Chargers 37.2 yards
INSIDE THE 20 PUNTS
Best: Washington 41
Worst: New Orleans & Tampa Bay with 15 apiece
Best: New England 40.8 yards
Worst: Jacksonville 48.0 Yards
OPPONENT NET PUNTING
Best: Miami 36.6 yards
Worst: Tampa Bay 43.2 yards
Best: Houston 37
Worst: Arizona 12
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: San Francisco 97.0 percent
Worst: Minnesota 68.7 percent
OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Detroit 67.8 percent
Worst: Atlanta 100 percent
EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE
Best: 2 teams tied at 100 percent: Denver, Detroit
Worst: Cleveland 82.3 percent
Best: 4 teams tied with 12 points apiece: Miami, New England, NY Jets, Tennessee
Worst: 16 teams tied with 0 points scored: Atlanta, Buffalo, Chicago, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Indianapolis, Minnesota, New Orleans, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Seattle, Tampa Bay, Washington
Best: 16 teams tied with 0 points allowed: Arizona, Atlanta, Baltimore, Buffalo, Carolina, Cleveland, Dallas, Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Kansas City, LA Rams, New England, New Orleans, NY Jets, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay
Worst: 5 teams allowed 12 points apiece: Chicago, Denver, Green Bay, LA Chargers, Seattle
Best: New England 5
Worst: 12 teams tied with 0 blocked kicks: Buffalo, Carolina, Chicago., Dallas, Detroit, LA Chargers, Minnesota, NY Giants, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay, Tennessee, Washington
OPPONENT BLOCKED KICKS
Best: 9 teams tied with 0 blocked kicks: Arizona, Carolina, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, New England, NY Giants, NY Jets, Philadelphia
Worst: Cincinnati, Cleveland 4 apiece
Best: Houston 3
Worst: 11 teams tied with 0: Arizona, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dallas, New England, New Orleans, NY Giants, Oakland, San Francisco, Tennessee
Best: 14 teams tied with 0 giveaways: Arizona, Atlanta, Chicago, Dallas, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Miami. Minnesota, New Orleans, Oakland, Pittsburgh, Seattle, TampaBay, Washington
Worst: Green Bay 5
Best: Minnesota 8 penalties, 60 yards
Worst: Pittsburgh 27 penalties, 257 yards