Ranking the 5 Best Special Teams Units in the NFL

Timothy HockemeyerCorrespondent IISeptember 21, 2011

Ranking the 5 Best Special Teams Units in the NFL

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    One of the most underrated aspects of football is the importance of special teams. These units provide field position, points and some of the most exciting plays in football.

    We watch payers like Devin Hester, Josh Cribbs and Ted Ginn, Jr. and marvel at their skill. We understand the importance of guys like Jason Hanson, Robbie Gould or Nate Kaeding when we need a big field goal in overtime, yet we overlook all of the crucial kicks they make earlier in the game.

    And we jump up and down when our punting unit downs a ball on the opponents 1-yard line, but seldom think about the punter when discussing the important players on the team. Or the gunners. Or the long-snappers.

    We get mad when our favorite pet project is cut at the end of the preseason because of a lack of special teams aptitude, but are thrilled when our every drive seems to start at the 40-yard line.

    Today we take notice of the forgotten heroes as we rank the five best special teams units in the NFL.

New Orleans Saints

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    The Saints special teams unit has been very good so far, and while they have done some great things, some of their best work is in what they haven't done.

    For starters, Thomas Morstead not allowing Devin Hester to touch the ball for most of the Saints Week 2 contest with the Bears should be considered a win. Accomplishing that while still registering fifth in the league in net punt yards is very impressive.

    Kicker John Kasay has been perfect so far. And kick returner Darren Sproles has recorded a touchdown on a punt return and is among the league's top returners in both punt and kick return averages.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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    Tampa Bay has had a rough go this season with their defensive unit. But the unit came up big in the end against the Vikings this week, and they have the Bucs special teams unit to thank for it after the coverage unit pinned the Vikings at their own 10 with 30 seconds left.

    Truth is that the Bucs special teams unit has been golden all year.  

    Kicker Conner Barth is perfect so far. Their coverage unit is tops in the league. And the much criticized acquisition of punter Michael Koenen has turned out to look like a stroke of genius.

    Top that off with the league's fifth ranked kickoff return unit, and what you get is a fantastic unit.

Houston Texans

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    A lot of things are going right for the Houston Texans this year, and you can count their special teams play as part of that.

    Jacoby Jones is the leagues third ranked punt returner and has scored on a return. He is complimented by newly acquired former Bear Danieal Manning in the kickoff return game. Manning is second in the league currently in average return yardage.

    Kicker Neil Rackers is among the most accurate kickers of all time and has been perfect so far this year, while freshman punter Brett Hartmann is currently ranked 10th in the league in average yards per punt.

    The coverage units could use some work, but overall, this is a very talented unit. 

Chicago Bears

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    The Bears have been among the best special teams units in the league for the better part of a decade.  The team is so stacked on returners that they allowed Danieal Manning to walk away without worry of the affect on the return game.

    Kicker Robbie Gould is perfect on the season and is currently the fifth most accurate kicker in league history, which is quite an accomplishment for a guy kicking half of his games in a city with the moniker "Windy." 

    And punter Adam Podlesh has been golden in both his directional game and his power punting, currently ranked second in the league in punting yardage and fourth in net average.

    The Bears coverage unit is among the best in the game and is led by gunner Corey Graham, who stopped Pro Bowler Eric Weems three times in Week 1 inside the 20 on kick returns.

    And the face of this unit is, of course, Devin Hester. Hester is the league's all time leader in return touchdowns, and that doesn't even include a returned field goal and a opening kickoff return in a Super Bowl.

San Francisco 49ers

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    The 49ers special teams unit has been on a tear so far this season, leading the league in a plethora of special teams categories such as returns for touchdown, average return yardage, field goals and average punt yardage.

    The team features former Pro Bowl kicker and longest field goal in Candlestick Park record holder David Akers and former Pro Bowl punter Andy Lee and both are living up to their reputations.

    Their coverage unit is reliable, if not spectacular.

    And then there is Ted Ginn, Jr., who has already scored on a punt return and a kickoff return so far and entirely took over the game in the 49ers Week 1 win over the division rival Seahawks.

    If this unit continues to perform this way, the 49ers will be in a position to win all season long.