Rick Gosselin’s 2021 NFL Special Teams Rankings
Fourth crown for John Harbaugh, first for his special teams coach Chris Horton
(Published February 2022)
The Las Vegas Raiders returned to the playoffs this season for the first time since 2016. They can thank their special teams for that, in particular their placekicker Daniel Carlson.
The Raiders won 10 games this season to claim a wild-card spot in the AFC. The foot of Carlson was responsible for half of those victories. He won three games with overtime field goals – a 22-yarder to beat Miami in Week 3, a 33-yarder to beat Dallas in Week 12 and a 47-yarder to beat the Chargers in Week 18 – and also kicked a 48-yarder at the gun to beat Cleveland in Week 15 and a 33-yarder at the gun to beat Indianapolis in Week 17.
Placekickers around the NFL proved their value in 2021. Twenty times this season an NFL placekicker lined up for a potential game-winning field goal on the game’s final play and converted 18 of them, including three apiece by Carlson, Evan McPherson of the Bengals and Younghoe Koo of the Falcons. Justin Tucker also kicked an NFL-record 66-yarder in Week 3 to beat Detroit on the final play, 19-17.
Another five NFL games in 2021 were won on field goals in the final 40 seconds of games and another eight were won on field goals in overtime. Teams that short-change special teams short-change their chances of victory.
The Ravens, whose head coach John Harbaugh has a rich history as an NFL special teams coach, have never short-changed the kicking game. Which is why Baltimore again finished first in the NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin for the last 43 years. The Ravens have finished in the Top 5 in these rankings in eight of the last nine seasons, also winning in 2015.
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 Ravens compiled 241.5 points to finish 30.5 better than the runnerup Indianapolis Colts at 272. Playoff teams Kansas City, Dallas, Buffalo, Las Vegas and Cincinnati all finished in the Top 11.
The Ravens, under special teams coach Chris Horton, finished first in five of the 22 categories. They also finished in the Top 5 in four other categories and the Top 10 in five others. Tucker was voted to the AFC Pro Bowl team – one of two Baltimore special-teamers so honored. Devin Duvernay also was selected as the return specialist after leading the NFL in punt returns with his 13.8-yard average.
Only four teams did not suffer any negative plays on special teams – no blocked kicks, turnovers or return touchdowns: Detroit, the New York Giants, Seattle and Tampa Bay. The Seahawks finished third in the rankings, the Lions seventh, the Bills ninth and the Buccaneers 29th.
This marks the second consecutive season Indianapolis and Seattle have finished in the Top 5 and the second consecutive season Baltimore, Buffalo, Chicago, Detroit and New Orleans have finished in the Top 10. The Kansas City Chiefs charted the biggest jump from one season to the next, moving up from 20th in 2020 to fifth in 2021.
The 2021 Rankings
Here’s a breakdown of the 22 categories:
Best: NY Jets, 27.4 yards
Worst: Denver, 16.2 yards
Best: Baltimore, 13.8 yards
Worst: LA Chargers, 5.9 yards
Best: NY Giants, 17.810 yards
Worst: Denver, 39.4 yards
Best: Kansas City, 4.9 yards
Worst: Green Bay, 12.8 yards
KICKOFF STARTNG POINT
Best: Seattle, 26.8-yard line
Worst: Green Bay, 23.4-yard line
OPPONENT STARTING POINT
Best: Cleveland, 23.2-yard line
Worst: Jacksonville, 30.1-yard line
Best: Las Vegas, 50.0 yards
Worst: Tampa Bay, 42.0 yards
Best: Dallas, 44.6 yards
Worst: LA Chargers, 36.5 yards
Best: Seattle, 40
Worst: Arizona, LA Chargers, 12 apiece
Best: NY Jets, 41.9 yards
Worst: Denver, 50.4
OPPONENT NET PUNTING
Best: Chicago, 37.2 yards
Worst: Denver, 43.9 yards
Best: Las Vegas, 40
Worst: Cleveland, 16
FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: Baltimore, 94.5 percent
Worst: Cleveland, 72.2 percent
OPPONENT FIELD GOAL PERCENTAGE
Best: New England, 66.6 percent
Worst: Cleveland, 96.2 percent
EXTRA POINT PERCENTAGE
Best: Buffalo, 100 percent
Worst: New Orleans, 81.5 percent
Best: Dallas, Indianapolis 18 points apiece
Worst: 17 teams tied with 0 points
Best: 17 teams tied with 0
Worst: Jacksonville, 24 points
Best: Dallas, 5
Worst: 11 teams tied with 0
OPPONENT BLOCKED KICKS
Best: 15 teams tied with 0
Worst: Washington, 6
Best: Buffalo, 3
Worst: 12 teams tied with 0
Best: 13 teams tied with 0
Worst: Miami, 4
Best: Indianapolis, 2 penalties, 25 yards
Worst: NY Jets, 20 penalties, 191 yards