The Third Phase: Pro Bowl Edition

| December 19, 2013

third-phase-wk15It’s possible our weekly special team review won’t be complete before the Pro Bowl ballots close on Boxing Day so what better time than now to bring you up to speed with our voting recommendations?

The Special Teamer vote is more difficult than most positions and not just because it’s a more complex beast due to all the different facets of play involved. Of course the fact that you have to mix in kickoff and punt coverage as well as kickoff and punt returns together with both sides of the Field Goal/Extra point equation makes it tricky, but after sorting all that out you are often hamstrung by being given only one nomination per team.  

That wouldn’t be so bad in itself if the teams could actually nominate the right player. It’s not that I’m suggesting that some of them don’t know who their best players are (although in some cases I’m saying exactly that) but politics, when the pick is made and loyalty to more senior players all go to make it a sub-optimal process at best.

So with two people to choose who should you select?

The first choice is as easy as picking Peyton Manning as your first quarterback. Simply put if you are not making Justin Bethel one of your Special Team selections you are wrong. There is no equivocation here; there is one right answer and everything else is incorrect so if you choose not to go with him, please do it in the knowledge you do so for a reason other than selecting the best player at his position.

First Selection: Justin Bethel – Arizona (+18.0)

Units (5): KO Coverage – L2 & R2, KO Returns, Punt Gunner – Left & Right, Punt Vice and kick blocks (most field goals & some extra points).

So dominant has Bethel been he has a grade almost twice as high as the next best player. He grades well on every unit with his work on punts a highlight. His 19 tackles (15 solo plus 4 assists) also leads the league and no one comes close to his ability to block kicks. If you want to be picky he has given away a few too many penalties and he did struggle a little against Seattle’s excellent group first time up. He’s got an opportunity to rectify that this week and I for one wouldn’t bet against him.

Second Selection: David Bruton – Denver (+7.5)

Units (5): KO Coverage – L4/5 & R4/5, KO Returns, Punt Personal Protector, Punt coverage and kick blocks.

The final selection is made trickier because of the other nine players in our Top 10 only two are on the ballot.

Seattle’s Jeremy Lane (+9.0) was left off in favor of teammate Heath Farwell (+5.5) a partially understandable decision based on the veteran’s tenure and the fact he is at least a very good player. However, Farwell only grades averagely on punts and his four solo tackles are a long way behind Lane’s 10.

Further complicating matters is Pittsburgh’s bizarre late decision to replace Robert Golden (+9.5) as their candidate with Antwon Blake (+1.0). Apparently this was at the behest of special teams coach Danny Smith who felt Blake’s work as a gunner and vice trumped Golden. The problem with this is, that in the context of the entire NFL, Blake is a slightly above average gunner in terms of pure performance and production. His play may have been important within a team context, but on the bigger stage Golden stands out far more prominently in his roles of kick coverage contain and personal protector than Blake.

Given the option I would have picked either of these as next up but that doesn’t mean Bruton isn’t a good player. After a marvelous start to the year he was identified by opposing special team’s coaches for extra attention and took time to adjust. That said, he never once played badly and his soaking up double teams has helped his teammates immensely. His six tackles (four solo) may look meager in comparison to some competitors, but he has been the heart and soul of one of the best units around this year.

 

 PFF Special Teamer – 2013 Roll of Honor

Week

Winner Team

Comment

1

David Bruton

Denver

One blocked punt, a penalty drawn preventing him from blocking another and quality blocking for the returner when the Ravens actually managed to get the ball away.

2

Blake Constanzo

Chicago

Consistently excellent blocking on kick-off returns and a forced fumble when covering a kick-off.

3

Jeremy Lane

Seattle

Primarily for his work as a vice holding up gunners but also made a tackle on a KO, downed a punt and drew a flag while playing gunner himself.

4

Damontre Moore

N.Y. Giants

Three tackles on coverage units, an assist and a partially blocked punt together with some excellent blocking.

5

Justin Bethel

 Arizona

A positive impression on eight of the 12 snaps he played – two tackles, beating a triple team, drawing a holding penalty, downing a punt, and great work as the single vice.

6

Taiwan Jones

Oakland

Outstanding work on punts. Slowed down the gunner on returns as solo vice to go along with three tackles in coverage.

7

Larry Dean

Minnesota

Did his part to keep the Vikings competitive with a key block on a punt return touchdown and forced fumble in punt coverage.

8

Justin Bethel

Arizona

Bethel becomes our only two-time winner to date with his usual combination of work in all facets of play; good blocking as the punt hold-up, a tackle on a kick return and a downed punt at the one.

9

Cedric Peerman

Cincinnati

Harrassed Miami punter Brandon Fields  all day long as well as blocking well on kick-offs and making a tackle in coverage.

10

Justin Bethel

Arizona

Winning this award for a third time Bethel put in the best performance we’ve ever seen on special teams by having positively graded involvement in 11 of a possible 19 plays.

11

Justin Tuggle

Houston

Three tackles, a penalty drawn and some good blocking for Kelvin Martin saw Tuggle not only in green for the first time but also a member of our roll of honor.

12

Johnson Bademosi

Cleveland

Back to the form that made him our special teamer of the year in 2012 he played well on every unit but stood out particularly when blocking for kick returns.

13

Junior Hemingway

Kansas City

His best contribution on special teams to date coincided with his best game on offense too. Four tackles on returns with only seven opportunities is an unbelievable return.

14

Sean Richardson

Green Bay

Relatively new to the team (activated from PUP before W12) Richardson showed an excellent feel for kickoffs both in terms of coverage and blocking.

15

Jackie Battle

Tennessee

The first Titan to make the list his blocking on kick-offs was excellent, he made a tackle in coverage and also knocked loose the onside kick from Larry Fitzgerald’s grasp.

 

 

Follow Neil on Twitter: @PFF_Neil

 

  • Gergely Hegyi

    Sergio Brown (IND) feels like a great ST player as well. What is your take on him?

    • PFF_Neil

      When you play the right number of units (as he does), get nominated (as he has) and make a big noticeable play ( the blocked FG vs the Cardinals) you are always in with a shot.
      The problem is his work as a gunner is not great and while he does a decent job as force on kick-offs, this and that one big play isn’t anywhere near enough to be compared to my selections I feel.
      He’s also missed only two less tackles than he’s made (four and six) and given away a couple of penalties.

      • Gergely Hegyi

        Obviously, as an outsider, I can only see the highlight plays (FG block, big time saves in front of endzones, etc.) and not the missed tackles or occasional powerless plays as a gunner. Thanks a lot for the breakdown, Neil.

  • Isaac

    No Matthew Slater? Boo