Specialists Week – Gunner vs Vise
Our week long dive into the third phase takes us into the dark world of gunners and vises. Gordon McGuinness is your guide to the league's best.
Specialists Week – Gunner vs Vise
Our third article focusing on special teams takes a look at, for me anyway, the most interesting matchup that we find between two opposing units. That is the battle between the gunner and the vise on punts.
Lining up out wide on the play, in the same way you’d find a wide receiver matched up with a cornerback, the gunner is trying to get off the line of scrimmage as quickly as possible and get downfield to record a tackle, force a fair catch, or edge the returner to the sideline. The advantage is always in favor of the gunner, who knows the intended direction of the punt and has a lot of field to work with to get past the vise.
With that in mind teams will often use two players opposite each gunner in order to protect against both an inside and outside release. The downside to this however, is that it leaves less players on the line of scrimmage, making it harder to block the punt, and tougher to hold up the punt team as they attempt to get downfield themselves.
One thing which helps the vise out however, is what they are allowed to get away with contact wise. They may line up in a similar position to a wide receiver and a cornerback, but a vise is allowed to make much more contact than a cornerback ever would.
With all that in mind here’s a breakdown of the best, and worst, at both positions.
Gunners – The Top Five
– The best gunner is the NFL last year was Marcus Easley, with nobody else able to get off blocks and get downfield as well as he did.
– The term “Special Teams Ace” is banded around a lot, to the point that it essentially just means a player who exclusively plays special teams at this point. That being said, it’s perfectly accurate when used to describe Matt Slater who lived up to that billing for the Patriots this year.
– Ron Brooks’ inclusion gives the Bills two players in the top five, confirming their status as the best gunner duo in football.
Gunners – The Bottom Five
– Brandon Boykin might be one of the best slot corners in the NFL, but he is not one of the best gunners. He made just one tackle when lined up at the position in 2014.
– How did Eddie Pleasant grade out as the worst gunner in football in 2014? His four missed tackles certainly didn’t help, but he also routinely failed to get off double teams.
– Jaron Brown was our second lowest gunner, but that didn’t deter the Cardinals from using him there, with his 95 snaps the most of any player at the position.
Vise – The Top Five
– Justin Bethel narrowly missed out on being our highest graded vise two years in a row, with a slow start to the season ultimately being what cost him the crown.
– If we’re going to call players Special Teams Aces, let’s start with Kelcie McCray. The best vise in football in 2014, he was also handy on kick coverage.
– While the Bills have gunners, the Chiefs have two of the top five vises in the NFL from a year ago. Those teams square off in Week 12, making for an exciting battle on the perimeter of the punting game.
Vise – The Bottom Five
– With Omar Bolden and Kayvon Webster struggling last season, the Broncos had two players in the bottom five.
– Webster is another player who didn’t see his poor play result in less snaps, with only six players seeing more snaps at the position last year.
– At a position where you are allowed to be more physical than many expect, Crezdon Butler still managed to be charged with three holding penalties.
Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon
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.