We learned in last season's AFC and NFC championships just how important special teams are to the outcome of a game. This is a fact that has long been believed and with several kickers getting the franchise tag this offseason, we continue to see their value.
From the punter who can pin the opposition deep in their own territory to the kicker who can be the difference between putting points on the board or giving the ball back, to the return men who can change the momentum of a game in a few instants in the most exciting play in sports- the kick return. Special teams are vitally important.
Here are the rankings of the special teamers in the AFC West by their special teams:
P Shane Lechler, K Sebastian Janikowski, PR Denarius Moore, KR Jacoby Ford
This is not just the best special teams unit in the AFC West, it is the best in the NFL. Lechler is the best punter of all time. That's not opinion, that's fact. Sebastian Janikowski holds several NFL records, one of which being longest field goal (63). He set many of them last season. Jacoby Ford is one of the best kick returners in the NFL. He returned three for touchdown as a rookie in 2010 and had another touchdown while playing less than half of last season. Moore may be relieved of his kick return duties this season as he focuses more on being a receiver. If so, Bryan McCann may take over his duties. He is no slouch in the return game as well.
P Mike Scifres, K Nate Kaeding, PR Eddie Royal, KR Richard Goodman
Scifres and Kaeding are among the better punter/kicker duos in the NFL. Both have been at it for a while now. Scifres has seen his average punt distance rise the past two seasons from around 45 yards per punt to 47. Kaeding is a two-time Pro Bowler and one time All Pro. He was out with an injury much of last season and it is hard to believe but there are rumblings that his replacement, Nick Novak could take his job. Eddie Royal is a compact speedster who averaged over 16 yards per punt return last season and has three return touchdowns in his four year career. Goodman had an nice seasons last year returning kicks. He averaged 27.5 yards a kick return with one return TD.
P Dustin Colquitt, K Ryan Succop, PR/KR Javier Arenas
Colquitt is a pretty good punter in his own right. He just happens to be in the same division as two great punters in Lechler and Scifres. Succop has averaged over 80% on his field goals in his three seasons in the NFL. Arenas is an average kick and punt returner.
P Britton Colquitt, K Matt Prater, PR Eric Decker, KR Matt Willis
Dustin's little brother Britton had a nice sophomore season in 2011, averaging over 47 yards per punt. Then again, he does is mostly in the thin air a mile high so that plays a role. Prater is among the better kickers in the NFL though he had a down year in 2011. He missed 4 of 7 field goal attempts from 40-49 yards and finished with his lowest percentage (76%) since his first year as the full time starter. Decker had a return touchdown in 2011 despite only returning six punts all season. He averaged over 22 yards per return. Willis has averaged barely over 20 yards in just eight kick returns in 2011.