2015 Top Free Agents: Specialists
Not to be forgotten, the free agent kickers, punters and long-snappers get a look here as Gordon McGuinness lists the top options at each spot.
2015 Top Free Agents: Specialists
You’ve surely had a flip through the PFF Free Agent Tracker by this point, so this set of articles will build nicely on what you’ve already seen. This, our yearly effort to sort the top free agent options at each position, will present a position a day and offer a Top-10 of what’s available.
It’s more than just looking at our grades, but factoring in longevity, age, injuries and so much more in order to tell you who we think are the best gets out there.
This one is a bit different, with a limited number of kickers, punters and long snappers available, but here are the best three at each position.
1. Stephen Gostkowski – Franchised / Re-signed with New England
2014 Grade: +3.9
2014 Snaps: 195
With Atlanta re-signing Matt Bryant, Gostkowski is now the best kicker available heading into free agency. Coming off a very impressive season, he was good on 94.6% of his field goal attempts, missing just two all year. That put him second amongst all kickers behind Adam Vinatieri last year and will make him an attractive signing to any team needing a kicker. Consider too that he has shown himself capable of kicking in the harsh conditions of Gillette Stadium in January and it’s easy to see why he’ll be atop some teams’ wishlists.
2. Ryan Succop – Re-signed with Tennessee
2014 Grade: +3.6
2014 Snaps: 114
While Gostkowski is the only top-level kicker available, Succop is one of two players who represents a solid fall back for anyone who misses out on him. Good on 86.4% of his kicks in 2014, tied for 13th in the league, it was the best season of his career in that regard. Much of his career has floated around the 80% mark, but teams will be encouraged by what they saw from him in Tennessee this year.
3. Matt Prater – Re-signed with Detroit
2014 Grade: +2.9
2014 Snaps: 49
Arriving in Detroit in Week 6, Prater did a solid job for the Lions, but it’s his time in Denver that will have teams interested in securing his services in 2015. He lead the league with a field goal percentage of 94.3% in 2013, and took advantage of the altitude in Denver to kick plenty of long field goals. He still managed to be successful on three of the five field goals he attempted from 50 yards or more in Detroit, though, so his leg wasn’t just limited to having distance in Denver.
Note: There are only two Punters who are unrestricted free agents on our free agent tracker so we only have a top two here.
1. Brett Kern – Re-signed with Tennessee
2014 Grade: +17.4
2014 Snaps: 96
Our ninth-highest graded punter in 2014, Kern is by far the best punter available this year at a position where there are fewer solid performers than you’d expect. Averaging 46.8 yards per punt, Kern dropped 30 of his 72 punts inside the opponents 20-yard line, the ninth-most in the league last season.
2. Mat McBriar
2014 Grade: -1.7
2014 Snaps: 14
McBriar is now at the stage of his career where he is more likely to be picked up to help out when a team’s punter is struggling or injured. Since 2012 he’s not been on an active roster at the start of the season, but has been picked up later in the year. Considering there aren’t 32 good punters in the league, that means the chances of him being picked up at some point in 2015 quite high, even if it’s not before the season begins.
Note: These grades for long snappers are renormalized to account for the fact that we don’t give positive grades for successful snaps, only negatives for varying degrees of poor ones.
1. Morgan Cox – Re-signed with Baltimore
2014 Grade: +1.9
2014 Snaps: 62
Missed more than half of the season injured, but before that injury in the Week 5 game against Indianapolis, Cox had just one inaccurate snap, with the ball going just too far to the outside of punter Sam Koch. Had he stayed healthy all year and kept that up, he’d have challenged Philadelphia Eagles long snapper Jon Dorenbos as our All-Pro at the position.
2. Jeremy Cain
2014 Grade: +2.1
2014 Snaps: 130
Cain was another long snapper who didn’t make too many mistakes in 2014. Just four of his long snaps were off target, all of which he missed high. That’s still a fairly high success rate over the course of the season and it would be surprising to not see him snapping for someone in 2015.
3. Clint Gresham – Re-signed with Seattle
2014 Grade: +1.1
2014 Snaps: 142
Gresham came in a step below Cox and Cain this year, with 11 snaps off target, including one in the Super Bowl which was bad enough that it could have resulted in a turnover. Still, 11 snaps off target over the course of the season sees him rank in the top half of long snappers, so he’ll likely not stay a free agent too long.
Gordon McGuinness | Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst
Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.