Special role in success
June 20, 2003
By Gil Brandt
special to nfl.com
We hear about the guys who throw touchdown passes and the players that score them week in and week out during the NFL season. We hear about the sack leaders, the run stoppers and the pass deflectors. There's never a week that goes by when we don't hear about some of these big names.
But rarely do we hear about the men who also make tremendous plays, but only on special teams. How often are you aware of the David Binns and the Paul Edingers of the world? Believe it or not, those that play on special teams are extremely important to the success of an NFL team.
Do you know how many games were decided by a field goal or less last season? Would you believe 63 games, nearly four per week on average? In some of these games, a special teams player may have made a play or two that saved (or cost) his team the victory. Before the 2003 season gets started, it's a good idea to familiarize yourself with these big-contributing but little-known players.
Quick history of special teams
Obviously, there's been kicking and punting and returning of both since the game of football was invented. But for years and years, not a lot of attention was paid to the special teams game. Teams would often find kickers all sorts of ways -- the draft, the waiver wire, private tryouts and so on.
Like kickers, good deep snappers are not easy to come by. At Dallas, we had one by the name of David Manders. One year, Manders decided to hold out. He didn't attend practice or play the entire preseason. Well, during our final preseason game, the deep snapper that we did have in camp, Jim Arneson, snapped the ball way over our punter's head and through the end zone. Not good. Coach Tom Landry came up to me on the sidelines, looked me in the eye and said, "Get Manders signed!" He was there for our first game that year.
In 1983, the Cowboys' Bill Bates caught everyone's attention. He was the first NFC guy to be selected as a Pro Bowl special teams player. He was great, and our fans really loved him. But until 1983, the NFL never had a designated Pro Bowl player that was strictly a special teams player. Since then, the Pro Bowl has allowed one kind of that player from each conference to make the team. It's a nice way of rewarding those who aren't household names.
You may be thinking there are way too many Cowboy stories here, but I guess we focused on special teams a lot. The team still does -- coach Bill Parcells recently put his rookies through special teams drills to find out who was good at them. If a sixth- or seventh-founder on the bubble can make a nice open-field hit or block, he could make the team because of it.
In actuality, the two pioneers of special teams are Dick Vermeil and Marv Levy. Both legendary coaches broke into the League as special teams coaches. In fact, Levy was always proud to promote the special teams game to his players. He would usually keep five receivers on the roster, but the fifth receiver wasn't necessarily the fifth-best receiver he had in camp, but rather a solid special teams player. That's how Steve Tasker made the Bills. Ironically, both of those coaches have taken teams to the Super Bowl.
According to my rankings, the top three special teams units in the NFL last season were Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh and the New York Jets. All three made the playoffs, and the Buccaneers won the Super Bowl. Coincidence?
Here are the 10 guys who I feel are the best at delivering the ball to their holders and punters.
Mike Bartrum, Eagles
David Binn, Chargers
James Dearth, Jets
Ryan Kuehl, Browns
Brody Lodiard, Vikings
Jason Kyle, Panthers
Pat Mannelly, Bears
Lonie Paxton, Patriots
Ed Perry, Dolphins
Derek Rackley, Falcons
The average cap value for these guys is $452,000. So, for an average of six-tenths of one percent of a team's salary cap, a team could have a quality snapper.
Here are the top eight upright-splitters from where I sit.
David Akers, Eagles
John Carney, Chargers
Phil Dawson, Browns
Paul Edinger, Bears
Jay Feely, Falcons
Jason Hanson, Lions
Matt Stover, Ravens
Adam Vinatieri, Patriots
The average cap value for these guys is $746,000, about one percent of a team's salary cap.
Here are the best overall special teams players in the game right now.
Frank Chamberlain, Titans
Tim Johnson, Raiders
Michael Lewis, Saints
Damien Richardson, Panthers
Adalius Thomas, Ravens