Special teams are often an overlooked and under-reported aspect of football. You primarily hear big stories about players on special teams when they do something particularly bad, despite many players making a living on being excellent in that phase of the game, be it via kicking, punting, returning, long-snapping or general coverage.
I’m firmly in the Rich Eisen camp of “punters (and all special teams players) are people, too.” As such, it’s always interesting each year to read the special teams rankings that Rick Gosselin puts out every year. This year’s rankings went up on Tuesday, and there’s a lot to take from it.
The formula for the rankings have the league’s 32 teams ranked in 22 kicking categories and are assigned points according to their standing — one point for being the best, 32 points for being the worst. As Gosselin notes, in the 14 years the ranking has included 22 categories, no team has ever had fewer than 200 total points, until the 2017 Los Angeles Rams, a remarkable team with indisputably the best special teams unit in the league.
In these rankings, the Rams finished with 196.5 points, and lower is obviously better. Gosselin goes in-depth on what the Rams did right and it’s a great read, so check that out.
But we’re more interested in the San Francisco 49ers, who come in just about dead center, No. 15 overall in the league with 363 points. The worst team in the league: the New York Giants at 514 points.
He also listed the top five from each category, and the worst from each category. The 49ers appear second in punt coverage (4.18 yards average, with the Houston Texans being the worst at 12.4 yards), third in field goals (39, with Cleveland Green Bay tied for last with just 15), second in field goal percentage (95.1 percent) tied for worst in blocked kicks with eight other teams that had zero and tied with four other teams for fourth in special teams takeaways (2).
It’s not surprising that the 49ers ranked highly in everything that had to do with Robbie Gould, who has been an excellent addition. I’m all for the 49ers continuing to add veteran kickers, especially with what seems like a startling lack of quality young players at the position entering the league.
Their punt coverage work was some of the best in the league, although losing Raheem Mostert to injury cost them on the back end of the season. Bradley Pinion has quietly emerged as one of the better punters in the NFL, thanks to a combination of a big leg, solid accuracy, and a great coverage unit.