The end of the NFL season produces various rankings of NFL special teams units based on performance during the regular season. The so-called “third phase” of football is equally important, if not more so, in the playoffs, demonstrated by the last-second wins by the Bengals and Niners yesterday. The Packers special teams units were universally ranked the worst and that held true last night with a blocked field goal and blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown.
Each year, I review the special teams rankings from NFL reporter Rick Gosselin, who ranks the special teams for each club in 22 different categories. Similarly, Football Outsiders uses its own formula to generate a DVOA to rank special teams. Former NFL special teams coach Ben Kotwica now does his own rankings, using both Gosselin’s and Football Outsiders. While everyone agreed the Packers were the worst, they were also in agreement that the Ravens had the best units.
Below are the top 5 units for each expert (listed 1-5):
Below are the bottom 5 units for each expert (listed 32-28)
Wild Card Weekend concluded Monday night and featured the only tackle by a snapper during the first six playoff games. Aaron Brewer of the Cardinals recorded an assisted tackle in the loss against the Rams.
No team currently has a snapper on the practice squad as the Rams continue to move Carson Tinker back and forth from its practice squad and the Bengals just waived Colin Holba. Before the playoffs started, the Niners conducted a tryout that included Garrison Sanborn but he was not signed.
As of today, just one team has added a snapper for next season through a reserve/future deal. The Steelers signed Rex Sunahara, who spent a week on the team’s practice squad late this season, and has prior experience with the Dolphins.
The very first Week Eighteen of the NFL regular season is complete and featured three overtime games that impacted the playoffs. Raiders snapper Trent Sieg made national news after the final game when he allegedly is seen telling Austin Ekeler of the Chargers the Raiders planned to take a knee at the end of the game, allowing both teams to make the playoffs. Instead, after a Chargers time out, the Raiders got into field goal position and hit a game winner, eliminating the Chargers.
There was a rare unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on a snapper this week, as Reid Ferguson of the Bills tangled briefly with Nick Bawden of the Jets during a punt return. Both players were penalized.
Heading into the playoffs, Carson Tinker (Raiders) and Colin Holba (Bengals) remain on practice squads in case of emergency.
Teams can start signing players to reserve/future deals for next season and, while some teams have started to announce player signings, as of this morning, no long snappers have signed a deal. In addition, with a handful of NFL head coaches being fired, special teams coaches will be looking for work. Stay tuned in the coming days and weeks for news on any snapper signings and new special teams coaches as staffs are announced.
Josh Harris (Falcons), who is heading to his first Pro Bowl, led all snappers in punt coverage tackles this season with six, three of which were solo tackles. Four snappers ended up with four tackles.
With the college football season coming to a close Monday night, it is time to highlight some of the top long snapping prospects for this year’s NFL Draft. A good place to start is the college all-star games that have either already happened in the case of the FCS Bowl or will take place over the next few weeks.
Patrick Mannelly Award winner Cal Adomitis (Pitt) and client Jordan Silver (Arkansas) will be the snappers for the Senior Bowl. Billy Taylor (Rutgers) will pull double duty as the only snapper for the Shrine Bowl. Cameron Kaye (Troy) and Antonio Ortiz (TCU) will snap in both the NFLPA and Hula Bowls, while Cole Jenkins (Buffalo State) will play in the Tropical Bowl after already having participated in the FCS Bowl.
Week Seventeen, which usually marks the end of the NFL regular season, is complete and just one week of the regular season remains. However, COVID continues to impact many teams and snappers are no exception.
The Chargers added Beau Brinkley to its practice squad but just released him after Matt Overton snapped this weekend. The Colts used veteran Kyle Nelson this week after losing Luke Rhodes to the COVID list. Nelson was signed after a workout that also included Trey Harper in his first NFL tryout, along with Brian Khoury and Garrison Sanborn. Rhodes should be back this week as Nelson was released yesterday. Colin Holba was added to the Bengals practice squad, likely as a potential emergency replacement for Clark Harris. Harris did snap in his 200th game for the Bengals Sunday. Finally, the Rams released Carson Tinker from its practice squad after being on the team on and off the last few weeks.
Five snappers recorded tackles in punt coverage this week. Aaron Brewer (Cardinals) and Nick Moore (Ravens) had solo tackles, while client Patrick Scales (Bears), Thomas Hennessy (Jets) and Jon Weeks (Texans) recorded assists.
Below is the NFL Long Snappers Chart after Week Seventeen.
Week Sixteen is complete and all games were played as scheduled. There were no major snapping issues, but a holder became front and center in the Saturday evening game between the Colts and Cardinals. The Cardinals missed a field goal early in the game and it appeared that kicker Matt Prater suffered from issues with the hold. Regular holder Andy Lee was on the COVID list so Colt McCoy was next up and had problems with placement of the ball and getting the laces out. Prater missed two field goals and one extra point.
Congratulations to the Pro Bowl snappers Josh Harris (Falcons) and Luke Rhodes (Colts). Both are first time Pro Bowlers.
Beau Brinkley had tryouts this past week with Seattle and Arizona. He was not signed in either place and Brian Khoury and Garrison Sanborn also participated in the Seattle workout.
Five snappers had tackles in punt coverage this week. Steven Wirtel (Packers), Nick Moore (Ravens), Joe Cardona (Patriots) and client Patrick Scales (Bears) recorded solo tackles, while JJ Jansen (Panthers) added an assisted tackle.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after Week Sixteen is below.
Week Fifteen is not quite complete as there will be two games tonight due to COVID issues. COVID moved the Raiders game against the Browns from Saturday to Monday Night and special teams coach Mike Priefer served as Head Coach for the Browns filling in for Kevin Stefanski.
Special teams continue to have a huge impact in games. There were four on side kicks recovered last week and the Patriots suffered their third blocked punt of the season this week.
Beau Brinkley was waived by the Cardinals after last week’s action and had a workout in Houston. The Rams added Carson Tinker to the active roster and it is possible he snaps for the Rams tonight. Tinker has already snapped for the Bucs and Raiders this season.
The Pro Bowl team will be announced tomorrow but the final fan voting had Joe Cardona (Patriots) lead the AFC snappers with 86,382 votes and rookie Camaron Cheeseman (WFT) lead the snappers in the NFC with 72,416 votes.
Zach Triner of the Bucs recorded the only tackles by a snapper so far this week and he had a great day in coverage with three solo tackles.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after (most of) Week Fifteen is below.
On Saturday night before a sold-out crowd, Cal Adomitis of Pitt won the third edition of the Patrick Mannelly Award. The Award, given annually to the FBS senior judged the best long snapper by a panel of experts, was founded by myself, Chris Rubio and Mannelly.
This post has some of my personal observations about Saturday’s event and the Award in general.
First, Bernie’s Book Bank benefits from the Award ceremony. They are an incredible organization and I saw first-hand it impactwhen we distributed books and two of the finalists, Alex Ward (UCF) and Damon Johnson (USC), read to the children at a Chicago elementary school. While all three finalists are incredible snappers, they are also incredible people as evidenced by the fact that Adomitis missed some Award events Friday because he was cutting his hair for a charity event in Pittsburgh that raised over $100,000.
It is amazing to see how this Award has grown in just three years. It is truly a labor of love and the founders work tirelessly to make the Award and ceremony the very best. There are always critics and personally I do not handle the criticism as well as I should. We try to objectively evaluate all senior snappers and solicit input from many sources since snapping can often be difficult to objectively measure. COVID also made things more difficult, as a senior can now get an extra year and the intent was to only include candidates in their final year of college.
Despite the critics, I know that this Award is making an impact, both by giving unsung snappers an Award and event to call their own and give back to the community while doing so. We are on to Year Four!
Week Fourteen brought a number of changes at the snapping position. Charley Hughlett (Browns), Trent Sieg (Raiders) and Zach Triner (Bucs) each snapped this week after prior COVID issues and Aaron Brewer (Cardinals) returned last night from injury. Because of Sieg’s return, Carson Tinker was released from Vegas after snapping in Week Thirteen.
The Bucs added Garrison Sanborn to the practice squad and the Steelers added Rex Sunahara to its practice squad following a tryout, but both have since been released. It is likely Beau Brinkley will be released from Arizona with Brewer’s successful return.
The Bears had the first punt return for a touchdown this season on Sunday Night and special teams play continue to be a key factor in many games. However, it was a very rare week for tackles in punt coverage by snappers, as no snapper recorded a tackle.
The NFL Long Snappers Chart after Week Fourteen is below.