NFL free agents for the summer of 2011 can offer quite a few teams in need of a boost on a special teams unit.
And with the NFL lockout about to come to an end (hopefully), NFL free agency talks concerning such special team specialists are sure to pick up.
Last season, a handful of teams that had potential to be elite (or teams that had playoff potential) seen their records and Super Bowl hopes crushed by inadequacy with their special teams' units. The San Diego Chargers are a prime example, as they finished in the top five in nearly every statistical category available, but failed to make the playoffs after letting up huge, momentum-shifting plays on special teams.
The Miami Dolphins missed out on the playoffs, too. And though their problems run deeper, they had problems on special teams, firing their coordinator a couple weeks into the season.
Adding some much-needed talent on special teams could further a team's Super Bowl hopes.
Here are the four best special teams players available.
Leon Washington won't give you a ton of great touches out of the backfield, but at 28, he's still one of the most dangerous return-men in the game.
Washington gathered three touchdowns off kick returns, averaging 25 yards per kick return on the season. He also averaged nearly 12 yards per punt return last season, and had an 84 yard punt return in 2010.
Washington's ability to take returns to the house make him a dangerous threat and would be a solid addition to any ailing special teams unit.
Jacoby Jones didn't have his best season as a kick returner in 2010; he had significantly lower return averages than he did in 2009.
Of course, Jones did get less opportunities to return kicks when he started taking on wide-out duties for the Houston Texans last season, and he probably wasn't as fresh for each return, either, further hurting his stat-line.
That said, Jones did have a stellar year in 2009 when he was solely a return man—he averaged nearly 27 yards per kick return and recorded a 95-yard kick return for a touchdown last season.
If Jones should stick to returning, since that's his strength, and a team that realizes this could have one of the best returners in the league.
David Akers' long run with the Philadelphia Eagles is probably over.
Akers proved to be a solid clutch kicker in Philly since 1999, when he was acquired from the Washington Redskins. Since that time, he's established himself as an All-Pro kicker.
Akers is pretty old now at 37; however, it's nothing new for an older kicker to find success in the NFL.
He's still got some leg, too, and was 10-for-14 for field goals longer than 40 yards.
A team in need of a veteran, clutch kicker should look no further than Akers.
Matt Prater proved to be a solid, young kicker for the Denver Broncos last season -- he hit nearly 90 percent of all of his field goal attempts, and was two-for-three on long-range (50+ yards) field goals.
Prater is a relatively young kicker with a hell of a leg, which allows him to consistently create touchbacks for his team's defense.
Field positioning is key, usually in the most defensively-tested games. Prater provides accuracy and leg strength to get his team in good positions to win games.