2014 PFF All-Pro Special Teams
It’s that time again, with everyone breaking out their end of year awards lists and highlighting the best players in the league. Here at PFF we dig into Special Teams to break down everything from blocking on kickoff return units to grading every snap from every long snapper in the league, so this year we’ve decided to create a Special Teams All-Pro team, pointing out the best of the best at each position.
We’ve normalized the grade by role to break down them even further than the complete grades you’ll find in Premium Stats. That, then, allowed us to see exactly who the best at each position was. So, with that in mind, here are the 2014 PFF All-Pro Special Teamers:
Field Goal Kicker – Matt Bryant, ATL (+9.8)
Went 29-for-32 on field goals this year, with all three misses coming from 50+ yards.
Punter – Johnny Hekker, STL (80 Punts, +41.6)
A fascinating battle with Pat McAfee for much of the year to be named our top punter, Hekker dropped 35 of his 80 punts inside the 20-yard line.
Long Snapper – Jon Dorenbos, PHI (168 Snaps, +5.1)
A picture of consistency, Dorenbos had just three inaccurate snaps all year. Even then those three weren’t terrible, just enough of an inconvenience to warrant a downgrade.
Punt Return Unit
Punt Returner – Darren Sproles, PHI (39 returns, +8.6)
Averaged 13.0 yards per punt return, scoring twice in the process. Electric with the ball in his hands, he just edged out Kansas City’s De’Anthony Thomas who impressed more and more as the season wore on.
Vice/Hold up – Kelcie McCray, KC (53 Snaps, +4.7) and Justin Bethel, ARZ (68 Snaps, +4.6)
The job of these guys is to slow down the gunners on punts, something that’s not easy to do at all. So difficult in fact, that teams often set up with two men on each side in this role to better deal with the gunners. Bethel was the best in the league last year, and after a slow start he finished the year strong. That wasn’t enough to catch McCray, though, who just edged him as the best vice in the league in 2014, consistently a force to be reckoned with.
Punt Coverage Unit
Gunner – Marcus Easley, BUF (46 Snaps, +4.6) and Matt Slater, NE (66 Snaps, +4.1)
Normally the first men down the field on a punt, the gunners are trying to make a tackle and, more importantly, ensure the return doesn’t get outside of them. Easley and Slater proved to be tough matchups for anyone in hold up duty throughout the year, with Slater earning a new contract in the process.
Kick Coverage Unit
Kickoff Specialist – Pat McAfee, IND (96 Kickoffs, +16.8)
Just missing out in the race to be our top punter, McAfee was at the top of the pile on kickoffs, where he had 70 touchbacks from his 96 kickoffs.
L1, L2, R1 and R2 (Contain)
Chase Reynolds, STL (71 Snaps, +4.0)
Jordan Poyer, CLE (64 Snaps, +3.1)
Morgan Burnett, GB (74 Snaps, +2.5)
Danieal Manning, HOU (78 Snaps, +2.5)
The safeties on kickoffs are generally the two players closest to each sideline, and take up a contain role to ensure the return doesn’t get outside of them, playing a key role in preventing big plays on kick returns.
L3-5 and R3-5 (Coverage)
Josh Martin, KC (67 Snaps, +5.7)
Nick Bellore, NYJ (75 Snaps, +5.6)
Bryan Braman, PHI (98 Snaps, +5.3)
Nat Berhe, NYG (73 Snaps, +5.1)
Michael Thomas, MIA (44 Snaps, +4.5)
Steven Johnson, DEN (70 Snaps, +4.1)
With the guys on the outside keeping the returns inside, these are the players who are trying to beat blocks and make tackles on kick returns. Martin was the best player on special teams all year, standing out on punts too, but it was his work on the kick coverage unit that really got our attention.
Kick Return Unit
Kick Returner – Adam Jones, CIN (27 Returns, +5.8)
Jones might not have scored in 2014, but he was the best kick returner in the league, averaging 31.3 yards per return.
Devon Kennard, NYG (63 Snaps, +4.0)
Jason Williams, CAR (78 Snaps, +3.8)
Trey Burton, PHI (67 Snaps, +3.1)
Albert McClellan, BAL (78 Snaps, +2.8)
Emmanuel Acho, PHI (61 Snaps, +2.5)
Adam Thielen, MIN (47 Snaps, +2.3)
Tourek Williams, SD (62 Snaps, +2.8)
Cory Harkey, STL (62 Snaps, +2.3)
Andrew Jackson, IND (21 Snaps, +3.5)
Karl Klug, TEN (66 Snaps, +3.1)
Responsible for creating space for returners like Jones, these were the best blockers at all three levels on kick returns. Whether it was dominant blocks to the ground or simply sealing opposing players inside and outside, they excelled setting up blocks and opening holes for their kick returners all year.
See the other awards we’ve handed out this week:
2014 PFF All-Pro Team
2014 PFF All-Pro Special Teams
2014 PFF Stephenson Award (Best Player)
2014 PFF Offensive Player of the Year
2014 PFF Defensive Player of the Year
2014 PFF Matthews Award (Best Offensive Lineman)
2014 PFF O-Line Rankings
2014 PFF Rookie of the Year
2014 PFF Offensive Rookie of the Year
2014 PFF Defensive Rookie of the Year
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon