NFL Draft 2012: Projecting the NFL's Next 7 Special Teams Demons

Jon SiddowayCorrespondent IApril 2, 2012

LINCOLN, NE - NOVEMBER 25: Linebacker Lavonte David #4 of the Nebraska Cornhuskers waits to be introduced on senior day before playing a  game against the Iowa Hawkeyes at Memorial Stadium November 25, 2011 in Lincoln, Nebraska. Nebraska defeated Iowa 20-7. (Photo by Eric Francis/Getty Images)
Eric Francis/Getty Images

A punter who places the ball with power and precision. A return man with reliable hands and eat-my-dust speed. A touchback machine and accurate field-goal kicker. A ball-hawk who makes smart, on-the-fly decisions and rarely misses a tackle.

The above, though seemingly fictitious characters in a J.R.R. Tolkien novel, are all key ingredients to a successful special teams unit. If absent, a team will lack the substance to win a Super Bowl. A meal with no flavor. Dough that never rises. 

Look no further than the most recent conference championships for further proof. 

The San Francisco 49ers, who cruised into the contest behind a stout defense, balanced offense and devotion to special teams, watched their season come to an abrupt end at the hands of two muffed punts. 

The Baltimore Ravens experienced a similar mishap in their game and can also attest to the importance of solid special teams play.  

With a chance to send the game into overtime, Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right. The clock expired; game over.

NFL teams are now scouring the draft for future special teams demons, so allow me to help out with a small compilation. As always, add to the list if you feel compelled.    


OLB/S Lavonte David, Nebraska

Safety, linebacker, where exactly does he fit into an NFL defense? As that gets figured out, David will thrive in his role on special teams. He has a nose for the ball, great closing speed and is a sure-tackler. A must for any special teams unit. 


CB Janoris Jenkins, North Alabama

Talent has never evaded him, neither has trouble. After his dismissal from the University of Florida, Jenkins landed with the Lions of North Alabama. There he finished with an average of 21.7 yards on 18 punt returns and was the only player in NCAA Division II to return three for a touchdown.

And, oh, he's a shutdown corner too. 


S Brandon Taylor, LSU

An underrated free safety prospect, Taylor packs a punch on the gridiron. Last season he had 71 total tackles with 7.5 for a loss, five passes defended and two interceptions. 

He flies around the field and never shies away from contact. Return men across the league will have to deal with a face full of Taylor as soon as they touch the ball. Not a comforting sight, so catch at your own risk.   


WR T.Y. Hilton, Florida International

Success in the return game is more than straight-line speed; it's reliable hands and elusiveness in the open field. Hilton has all three, a threat to take it the distance at any moment. He clocked a 4.33 40-yard dash at his pro day and looks even faster on film.

Not convinced? Just click here



RB Michael Smith, Utah State

Smith, playing in the shadow of teammate Robert Turbin, is relatively unknown and off the national radar. It's unfair. A shame. A potential secret (and very dangerous) weapon on special teams. 

Players with no clear position often find solace on special teams, a place to showcase their skills. Smith embodies that very thing. His senior season, he averaged 7.6 yards per rush, 11.3 per reception and found the end zone 11 times. Synonymous with versatility, Smith will shine on a special teams unit at the next level. 


K Danny Hrapmann, Southern Miss

Finally, a kicker getting some love. Never thought I'd be the one to supply it, but David Akers' record-breaking season changed all that. Hrapmann has all the physical tools to succeed in the NFL. And by tools I mean a right leg that can kick the ball really, really far. And accurately. 

The kid's a pretty good athlete too, so watch out for those fakes.

Oops, I may have spoiled the surprise.  


P Bryan Anger, California

Punters, though prone to dodging it, deserve some praise too. The ones that do their jobs, at least.

Anger has been one of the better punters in all of college football since his freshman year. He averaged 44.3 yards per punt in 2011, with 18 punts of 50 or more yards and 19 placed inside the 20. He's an important warrior in the strategic battle of field position.