The 2023 NFL Special Teams Rankings

The Houston Texans become rare back-to-back special teams champions

DeMeco Ryans has a strong case for NFL Coach of the Year honors.

Ryans inherited a 3-13-1 Houston team from Lovie Smith and, despite starting a rookie quarterback, took the Texans to an AFC South championship with a 10-7 record.

Frank Ross on his staff may have an even stronger case for NFL Assistant Coach of the Year honors.

Ryans retained Ross off Smith’s staff as his special-teams coordinator for good reason. Ross coached the Texans to the best special teams in the NFL in 2022 – and he did it again in 2023. I’ve been producing these annual NFL special-teams rankings for 38 years now and Ross is only the third coach to finish first in the rankings in consecutive seasons, joining Bobby April (Buffalo, 2004-05) and Dave Toub (Chicago, 200-07). Ross also became just the seventh coach to finish atop the rankings twice.

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 Texans compiled 236 points to finish 16 ahead of the runner New Orleans Saints with 252. The New York Jets, Las Veas Raiders and Los Angeles Chargers rounded out the Top 5.

The Texans finished in the Top 10 in 15 of the 22 categories. Houston led in kickoff returns with an average of 26.7 yards. The Texans shared the lead in special-teams scoring with 12 points on a pair of kickoff returns by different players, Andrew Beck and Dameon Pierce. Houston also shared first place in two other categories — fewest blocked kicks (none) and fewest turnovers (none).

Will Anderson blocked a field goal for the Texans and Ka’Dar Hollman and Henry To’oTo’o recovered fumbles. Anderson and To’oTo’o were both rookies from Alabama. The Texans also finished sixth in the NFL in net punting with an average of 43.04 yards.

Now understand the challenges Ross and the Texans faced in returning to the top. Ross lost two of his top coverage players from 2022 in free agency, Jalen Reeves-Maybin (Detroit) and Tremon Smith (Denver). Maybin went on to become the NFC Pro Bowl special-teams player for the Lions in 2023. Then three of Houston’s best coverage players to start the 2023 season – Eric Murray, M.J. Stewart and Tavierre Thomas – all finished the season on injured reserve. Ross got only nine games out of Thomas, eight from Stewart and six from Murray.

Still, Neville Hewitt made 13 tackles for Houston coverage units that finished 10th on kickoffs and fourth on punts.

“Neville was our tone setter,” Ross said. “The guy was a machine – high motor, high effort. He maximizes his skill set. He had a monster year.”

Houston used four six different gunners and four personal protectors on the punt team during the season. The Texans also used three kickers and two punters because of injuries. When kicker and team-leading scorer Kai Fairbairn suffered an injury in the Tampa Bay game in early November, backup running back Dare Ogunbowale took over in the second half. He kicked a 29-yard field goal and also handled six kickoffs with three touchbacks.

“We’ve done a good job of having multiple people prepare for key roles after losing impact-level players,” Ross said. “That allowed us to sustain some consistency. Developing young guys and trying to be a good teacher is the secret sauce.”

This was the fifth Top 5 finish for the Saints and their coach Darren Rizzi in the last six seasons. New Orleans finished in the Top 10 in 13 categories, either leading or sharing the lead in five of them and finishing in second in two others. New Orleans allowed a sterling 5.6 yards in punt coverage to lead the league and also blocked two punts.

The team that made the biggest jump in the rankings was the Philadelphia Eagles, who vaulted from 31st in 2022 to 10th in 2023. The Eagles finished in the Top 10 in 10 of the categories.

1Houston Texans236
2New Orleans Saints252
3NY Jets278
4Las Vegas Raiders284.5
5LA Chargers287.5
6Seattle Seahawks300
7Denver Broncos302
8Cincinnati Bengals311
9Jacksonville Jaguars314.5
10Philadelphia Eagles322
11Cleveland Browns325.5
12Dallas Cowboys326.5
13New England Patriots337
14Kansas City Chiefs342
15Indianapolis Colts348
16Baltimore Ravens348.5
17Pittsburgh Steelers356
18Arizona Cardinals356.5
19Tampa Bay Buccaneers360.5
20Detroit Lions372
21Tennessee Titans388
22Chicago Bears400.5
23Carolina Panthers416
NY Giants416
25SF 49ers425
26Atlanta Falcons437.5
27Minnesota Vikings444
28Buffalo Bills449.5
29Green Bay Packers452
31Miami Dolphins479
32LA Rams493

Here are the categories:


Best: Houston, 26.7 yards

Worst: LA Rams, 16.1 yards

League average: 22.6 yards


Best: Denver, 16.3 yards

Worst: Dallas, 5.4 yards

League average: 9.7 yards


Best: NY Jets, 15.4 yards

Worst: Miami, 30.5 yards

League average: 23.2 yards


Best: New Orleans, 5.6 yards

Worst: LA Rams, 15.5 yards

League average: 9.6 yards


Best: Seattle, 26.5-yard line

Worst: Minnesota, 24.3-yard line

League average: 25.2-yard line


Best: Detroit, 23.7-yard line

Worst: Miami, 26.6-yard line

League average: 25.2-yard line


Best: Dallas, 51.4 yards

Worst: New Orleans, 43.0 yards

League average: 47.3 yards


Best: Las Vegas, 45.1 yards

Worst: Chicago, 38.0 yards

League average: 40.5 yards


Best: New England, 38

Worst: Arizona, 13

League average: 25.9


Best: NY Jets, 44.5 yards

Worst: Denver, 49.5 yards

League average: 47.3 yards


Best: Philadelphia, 39.1 yards

Worst: Atlanta, 43.9 yards

League average: 41.7 yards


Best: Dallas & NY Jets, 36 apiece

Worst: New England, 16

League average: 28.5 field goals


Best: Tennessee, 96.7 percent

Worst: New England, 64 percent

League average: 85.8 percent


Best: Cleveland, 70.8 percent

Worst: Tennessee, 97.9 percent

League average: 85.7 percent


Best: 8 teams tied with 100 percent

Worst: Carolina, 85.0 percent

League average: 95.6 percent


Best: Houston, New England, New Orleans, 12 points apiece

Worst: 17 teams tied with 0

League average: 3.4 points


Best: 17 teams tied with 0

Worst: LA Rams, 14

League average: 3.4 points


Best: Cleveland, Dallas, Pittsburgh, 3 apiece

Worst: 10 teams tied with 0

League average: 1 blocked kick


Best: 12 teams tied with 0

Worst: Baltimore, LA Rams, Washington, 3 apiece

League average: 1 blocked kick


Best: Baltimore, NY Giants, 3 apiece

Worst: 8 teams tied with 0

League average: 1 takeaway


Best: 9 teams tied with 0

Worst: Tennessee, 4

League average: 1 giveaway


Best: LA Chargers, 4 for 35 yards

Worst: Green Bay, 19 for 178 yards

League average: 11.9 penalties for 97.9 yards

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