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49ers special teams up and down during Jim Harbaugh, Brad Seely tenure

The San Francisco 49ers special teams units have been all over the place the last four years, and the stats confirm it. Can they even out a bit in 2015?

Bob Levey/Getty Images

The San Francisco 49ers are reportedly interested in Thomas McGaughey to take over as special teams coach following a down year for the unit. Brad Seely departed after four seasons with the group, and it was certainly an up and down tenure. No matter what metric you use, the unit was strong in 2011 and 2013, and struggled in 2012 and 2014.

The two best rankings examples I can think of are Football Outsiders and Rick Gosselin's rankings. Pro Football Focus does grading of individual players, but FO and Gosselin provide the best overall unit grading, at least from what I can tell.

Football Outsiders ranks special teams figuring out the number of points, compared to league average, each team receives from the five elements of special teams: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, punt returns. The 49ers ranked No. 24 this past season. Prior to that, they ranked No. 7 in 2013, No. 20 in 2012, and No. 2 in 2011.

Rick Gosselin's rankings consider 22 different categories. They do not go into the same analytical breakdown. Instead the rank each team in the 22 categories and use those rankings to assign points. The categories include: KR average, PR average, KR allowed average, PR allowed average, KO starting point, opponent starting point, gross punting average, net punting average, punts inside the 20, opponent gross punting average, opponent net punting average, field goals attempted, field goal percentage, opponent field goal percentage, XP percentage, ST points scored, ST points allowed, blocked kicks, blocked kicks allowed, takeaways, giveaways, and penalties.

In Gosselin's rankings, the team ranked No. 23 in 2014. Prior to that, they ranked No. 2 in 2013, No. 15 in 2012, and No. 1 in 2011. The most random tidbit from 2014 was the fact that 49ers opponents were perfect on field goals. Opponents were 20 for 20 on field goal attempts. The 20 field goals made were 20th in the league for field goals allowed. The 49ers gave up three field goals inside the 30, nine more inside the 40, six more inside the 50, and two from 50 and beyond.

I want to spend the offseason taking a deeper dive into the special teams roller coaster of the last four years. This past year, I have to imagine the injuries played a significant role. Some of the guys starting on special teams in 2013 had to move into the starting lineup in 2014. Some continued their special teams work, but I wonder if the extra duty might have tired them out. And for those that did not pull double duty, that meant a new player replacing them on the various special teams units. That makes the roster moves that seem small all the more important this offseason.