Drafting Special Teams Players: The Often Overlooked Difference Makers

Drafting Special Teams Players: The Often Overlooked Difference Makers

Are you aware of the significant impact special teams players can have on the outcome of a game? Despite being often overlooked, these unsung heroes possess unique skills that can turn the tide in a team’s favor. In this article, we will explore the importance of drafting special teams players and how they can be the difference makers in crucial situations. Whether it’s a punt return for a touchdown or a game-winning field goal, understanding the value of special teams is key for any successful NFL team. Join us as we delve into the world of special teams and shed light on their often underestimated role in the game.

Why Special Teams Players Are Important

The Impact of Special Teams on Field Position

When it comes to football, field position plays a crucial role in determining the outcome of a game. Special teams players have a significant impact on field position, and their contributions can often be overlooked.

Special teams players, such as punters and kickers, possess a unique skill set that allows them to accurately place the ball deep into the opponent’s territory or pin them near their own goal line. By executing well on punt and kick returns, special teams players can ensure that their team starts their offensive drives with favorable field position. This can provide a significant advantage, as it shortens the distance the offense needs to travel to score points.

Additionally, special teams players are responsible for kickoffs and kickoff returns. A well-executed kickoff can force the opposing team to start their offensive possession from a less advantageous position on the field, giving the defense an upper hand. Conversely, a strong kickoff return can set up the offense with excellent field position, increasing their chances of scoring.

The Role of Special Teams in Scoring Points

It is not uncommon for special teams to directly contribute to a team’s scoring. Field goals and extra point attempts are crucial aspects of the game, and it is the special teams players who handle these responsibilities. A reliable and accurate kicker can be the difference between three points on the scoreboard or leaving the offense empty-handed.

Moreover, special teams players often have the opportunity to block field goals and extra point attempts. By successfully blocking these kicks, they can prevent the opposing team from scoring points and potentially even turn the tide of the game in their team’s favor.

The Importance of Special Teams in Momentum Swings

Momentum swings are a common occurrence in football, and special teams players can play a significant role in creating or shifting momentum. A well-executed punt return for a touchdown or a long kickoff return can energize a team and its fans, turning the tide of a game in an instant. These explosive plays not only provide points but also inject a surge of confidence and enthusiasm into the entire team.

Conversely, a special teams blunder, such as a fumbled punt return or a blocked kick, can have the opposite effect. It can deflate a team’s morale and provide a boost to the opponent, leading to a shift in momentum against the team that made the mistake.

In conclusion, special teams players are often overlooked but play a crucial role in football. Their impact on field position, scoring points, and momentum swings should not be underestimated. A well-coached and disciplined special teams unit can be the difference between a win and a loss, making these players essential difference-makers in any game.

Qualities of Effective Special Teams Players

Speed and Agility

When it comes to special teams, speed and agility are crucial qualities that can make a significant difference in a game. Special teams players often need to quickly react and adjust to changing situations on the field, whether it’s chasing down a kick returner or getting into position for a punt.

Having exceptional speed allows players to cover more ground in less time, making it difficult for the opposing team to gain yards or break through the coverage. Additionally, agility helps special teams players evade blockers and make tackles in open space. It enables them to change directions quickly, maintaining their balance while navigating through traffic.

Tackling and Coverage Skills

Another essential quality of effective special teams players is their tackling and coverage skills. Special teams require players who can consistently make open-field tackles while dealing with various obstacles, such as blockers and elusive returners.

Solid tackling skills are crucial to prevent big plays and limit the opposing team’s field position. Special teams players need to be able to wrap up and bring down the ball carrier, often in high-pressure situations where one missed tackle can result in a significant gain or even a touchdown.

Additionally, effective coverage skills involve understanding and reading the game, anticipating the returner’s moves, and maintaining proper positioning. This allows special teams players to quickly close gaps and limit the returner’s options, forcing them into less desirable areas of the field.

Blocking and Return Abilities

Lastly, effective special teams players must possess strong blocking and return abilities. Blocking is not only about physicality but also requires intelligence and technique. Special teams players need to create lanes and provide protection for their returners, allowing them to find gaps and make significant yardage on returns.

On the other hand, return abilities are critical for players tasked with returning kicks or punts. They need to have a combination of vision, quick decision-making, and explosiveness to capitalize on opportunities and gain valuable field position for their team. Returners must be able to quickly assess the field, anticipate blocks, and make decisive cuts to elude defenders.

In conclusion, the qualities of effective special teams players include speed and agility, tackling and coverage skills, as well as blocking and return abilities. These players not only possess the physical attributes necessary for success in special teams but also the mental and strategic understanding of the game. By excelling in these areas, special teams players can truly become the often overlooked difference makers on a team.

Scouting and Drafting Special Teams Players

Identifying potential special teams standouts

When it comes to scouting and drafting special teams players, it is essential to identify individuals who possess the skills and attributes necessary to excel in these specific roles. Special teams standouts are often overlooked during the draft process, but they can make a significant impact on a team’s success. Here are some key factors to consider when identifying potential special teams players:

  • Speed and Agility: Speed is crucial in special teams plays such as kick returns and punt coverage. Look for players who have the ability to quickly change direction and accelerate down the field. Agility is equally important, as it allows players to maneuver through tight spaces and evade blockers.

  • Tackling Ability: Special teams players are often tasked with making open-field tackles. Look for players who have demonstrated solid tackling skills and the ability to consistently bring down opponents in one-on-one situations. Good tackling technique, strength, and aggressiveness are all indicators of a potential standout.

  • Football IQ: Special teams plays require quick decision-making and the ability to read and react to the game. Look for players who have a strong understanding of special teams strategies, such as recognizing blocking schemes, anticipating the opponent’s moves, and making split-second judgments.

  • Versatility: Special teams players often need to contribute in multiple roles. Look for individuals who have experience playing various positions, as they can provide value beyond their primary role. Versatile players can be a valuable asset to a team, as they can fill in for injured starters or provide depth in other positions.

Evaluating college special teams statistics

To effectively evaluate potential special teams standouts, it is important to analyze their college statistics. While these statistics may not always tell the whole story, they can provide valuable insights into a player’s performance and potential. Here are some key college special teams statistics to consider:

  • Punt and Kick Return Yards: Look for players who have consistently gained significant yards on punt and kick returns. High return yardage indicates a player’s ability to find running lanes, break tackles, and contribute positively to field position.

  • Field Goal and Extra Point Success Rate: Special teams players involved in kicking plays should have a strong success rate on field goals and extra points. Look for players who have displayed accuracy and consistency in converting these scoring opportunities.

  • Blocked Kicks and Punts: Players who have a history of blocking kicks or punts demonstrate exceptional timing, athleticism, and awareness. These players can provide a significant advantage by disrupting the opponent’s special teams’ plays.

  • Special Teams Tackles: Analyze the number of tackles a player has made on special teams. High tackle counts indicate a player’s involvement and impact on special teams plays.

Utilizing pro day and combine performances

Pro days and the NFL Combine offer opportunities to evaluate potential special teams players in a controlled environment. These events provide a standardized platform for players to showcase their physical abilities and skills. Here’s how to utilize pro day and combine performances when scouting and drafting special teams players:

  • 40-Yard Dash: The 40-yard dash measures a player’s speed and acceleration. Look for players who can cover ground quickly and have a competitive time in this event.

  • Vertical Jump: The vertical jump assesses a player’s lower-body explosiveness and overall athleticism. Players with a high vertical jump can excel in punt and field goal blocking, as well as in kick returns.

  • Bench Press: The bench press evaluates a player’s upper-body strength. This strength is crucial for players involved in blocking and shedding blockers on special teams plays.

  • Position-Specific Drills: Pay attention to how players perform in position-specific drills related to their special teams roles. For example, punters and kickers should demonstrate accuracy and distance in their kicks, while gunners should showcase their speed and ability to get downfield quickly.

By thoroughly evaluating potential special teams standouts, analyzing their college statistics, and utilizing pro day and combine performances, teams can identify the often overlooked difference makers who can have a significant impact on the success of their special teams units.

Coaching and Developing Special Teams Players

Special teams players often play a crucial role in the outcome of a football game. While they may not always receive the same level of attention as offensive or defensive players, they can make a significant difference in key moments. In order to maximize the potential of special teams players, coaching and developing them is essential. This involves teaching proper techniques and fundamentals, creating game-specific strategies and schemes, and providing opportunities for growth and improvement.

Teaching proper techniques and fundamentals

Coaches play a vital role in ensuring that special teams players have a strong foundation of skills and knowledge. They must focus on teaching proper techniques and fundamentals to enable players to excel in their specific roles. Whether it’s kickers, punters, returners, or coverage players, each position requires specific skills that need to be honed.

For example, kickers and punters need to work on their kicking mechanics, such as leg swing, follow-through, and accuracy. Returners must learn how to read the opposing team’s coverage, make quick decisions, and effectively navigate through traffic. Coverage players require skills like tackling, shedding blocks, and maintaining proper lane discipline. By providing detailed instruction and practice in these areas, coaches can help special teams players master the necessary techniques.

Creating game-specific strategies and schemes

Special teams play is not just about individual skills; it’s also about executing well-designed strategies and schemes. Coaches need to analyze the strengths and weaknesses of both their own team and the opponent to create game-specific plans. This involves studying film, scouting opponents, and identifying areas where special teams can exploit weaknesses or gain an advantage.

For instance, a coach may notice that the opposing team struggles with kick coverage. In response, they may implement a scheme that focuses on directional kicking, aiming to pin the opponents deep in their own territory. Alternatively, if the opposing team has a dangerous returner, the coach may design a coverage plan that emphasizes containment and disciplined pursuit angles. These game-specific strategies can greatly impact the success of special teams plays.

Providing opportunities for growth and improvement

To develop special teams players, coaches must provide ample opportunities for growth and improvement. This includes giving players meaningful practice repetitions, providing constructive feedback, and offering additional resources for skill development. By creating a supportive and challenging environment, coaches can help players refine their abilities and reach their full potential.

Coaches can organize drills and practice sessions that specifically target the skills needed for special teams play. They can simulate game situations and provide players with opportunities to practice under pressure. Additionally, coaches should regularly review and analyze game film with players, highlighting areas for improvement and discussing strategies for continued growth.

In conclusion, coaching and developing special teams players is essential for maximizing their impact on the field. By teaching proper techniques and fundamentals, creating game-specific strategies and schemes, and providing opportunities for growth and improvement, coaches can help these often overlooked players become key difference makers.

Examples of Impactful Special Teams Players

Devin Hester: The Return Specialist

Devin Hester is widely regarded as one of the greatest return specialists in NFL history. Throughout his career, Hester consistently made game-changing plays on special teams, earning him a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. His ability to return punts and kickoffs for touchdowns not only provided a significant boost to his team’s field position but also swung the momentum in their favor. Hester’s speed, agility, and elusiveness allowed him to elude defenders and find open lanes, making him a nightmare for opposing special teams units.

Matthew Slater: The Special Teams Captain

Matthew Slater has been a cornerstone of the New England Patriots’ special teams unit for over a decade. As the team’s special teams captain, Slater’s leadership and knowledge of the game have been instrumental in the Patriots’ success on special teams. He consistently demonstrates exceptional technique and discipline, often making crucial tackles and downing punts inside the opponents’ five-yard line. Slater’s selflessness and dedication to his craft have earned him numerous Pro Bowl selections and the respect of his teammates and opponents alike.

Justin Bethel: The Special Teams Ace

Justin Bethel has made a name for himself as one of the premier special teams players in the NFL. Known for his exceptional speed and tackling ability, Bethel has consistently made impactful plays on kick and punt coverage. His relentless pursuit of the ball carrier and his knack for forcing fumbles have earned him a reputation as a game-changer on special teams. Bethel’s contributions often go unnoticed on the stat sheet, but his impact on field position and momentum cannot be overstated.

These examples highlight the crucial role that special teams players play in football games. While they may not receive the same recognition as offensive or defensive superstars, their contributions can often be the difference between a win and a loss. Whether it’s through electrifying returns, disciplined leadership, or relentless pursuit, these players prove that special teams can be a game-changer in every sense of the word.

In conclusion, while the focus in football is often on the star quarterbacks and skilled offensive and defensive players, special teams players should not be overlooked. They may not always receive the same level of recognition or attention, but their contributions can be game-changing. From the kicker who can make a crucial field goal to the punt returner who can shift the momentum of a game with a long return, special teams players play a vital role in the success of a team. By carefully scouting and drafting talented individuals for these positions, teams can gain a significant advantage and secure those often overlooked but crucial difference makers.