Ranking the Best Special Teams Players in College Football in 2015
Special teams are a lot like putting—neither seems important until it’s late in the day and the game is on the line.
Either your team has a three-point lead with two minutes left to go and you need your punter to pin the other team inside its own 20, or you’re standing over a short putt on the 17th that would put you two up on your yappy brother-in-law.
Suddenly, once again, you wish you would have taken the whole “short game” thing more seriously, instead of obsessing about a quarterback battle or how far you could hit your new driver.
It reminds you of Boston College kicker Mike Knoll missing an extra-point attempt in overtime in last season’s Pinstripe Bowl, sealing Penn State’s unlikely 31-30 comeback victory.
Here are 10 players who we should all be wishing for this year—they won’t likely get the yips or the press.
10. Alex Ross, RB, Oklahoma
Only two players in the FBS averaged more yards per kick return than Oklahoma’s Alex Ross did as a sophomore last season. He racked up 718 yards on 23 returns for an average of 31.22; only Cal’s Trevor Davis (32.62) and UAB’s J.J. Nelson (38.32) were better.
Ross scored twice, finding the end zone on a 100-yard return in the win over West Virginia and then on a 91-yarder in the victory over Texas.
He was also the Sooners’ No. 2 running back, racking up 595 yards and four scores on 88 carries, including hanging up 144 yards in the win at Iowa State.
Ross came to Oklahoma as a 4-star prospect in 2012.
9. Jarron Jones, DT, Notre Dame
Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones blocked two kicks as junior last season, despite missing the last two games of the year due to injury.
The first block came on a seven-yard field-goal attempt in the win over Syracuse, and the second came on an extra-point try in the wild win versus North Carolina.
Jones also blocked a pair of kicks as a sophomore in 2013, which makes him one of only three players to score multiple blocks in each of the last two seasons.
Jones’ statistical resume in 2014 also included 20 tackles, one tackle for a loss and a forced fumble. He came to Notre Dame as a 4-star in 2012.
8. Matthew McCrane, K, Kansas State
Kansas State freshman kicker Matthew McCrane led the nation last season in field-goal percentage, making 18 of his 19 tries for 94.7 percent.
McCrane was perfect from 50-plus, hitting a 53-yarder in the win over Oklahoma State and a 52-yarder in the win over Kansas. The only miss came on a 22-yard attempt in the fourth quarter of the win at West Virginia.
His performance was good enough to earn him Freshman All-American honors from the Football Writers Association of America.
McCrane was a 2-star recruit in 2013 from Brownwood, Texas.
7. Drew Riggleman, P, Arizona
The fourth-best punter in the FBS in yards per punt in 2014, Arizona’s Drew Riggleman fired off 76 punts for a whopping 3,501 yards.
Though his average of 46.07 is almost two yards shy of FBS-leading JK Scott from Alabama (48), Riggleman punted the ball 21 more times than Scott did.
He averaged 50-plus yards on three separate occasions last season, punting six times for 300 yards (50 yards per game) in the win over Cal, two for 116 (58) in the upset win at Oregon and seven for 364 (52) in the victory at Utah.
Riggleman will be a senior this season. He came to the Wildcats in 2011 from Sahuaro High School in Tucson, Arizona, where he played both football and soccer.
6. Speedy Noil, WR, Texas A&M
Texas A&M’s Speedy Noil is one of only a handful of athletes in 2015 who returned a substantial number of both punts and kicks.
As a true freshman, he returned 15 punts for 180 yards; his 12-yard average was the ninth-best mark in the entire FBS. He also returned 27 kickoffs for 645 yards, averaging 23.89 per return, No. 47 in the nation.
Other than being the Aggies’ No. 1 return specialist, Noil was also the No. 3 receiver, catching 46 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns.
Noil came to A&M as a 5-star recruit in 2014, 247Sports had him as the No. 1-ranked receiver.
5. Chris Milton, CB, Georgia Tech
Not only did Georgia Tech cornerback Chris Milton block two kicks last season as a junior, but he blocked three the previous year as a sophomore. That ties him at five with Oklahoma State’s James Castleman for the most blocks in college football in 2013 to 2014.
Last season, Milton blocked an extra-point attempt in the opening win over FCS Wofford and then got his hand on a 32-yard field-goal try in the third quarter of the three-point win over Virginia Tech.
His stat sheet also included two interceptions (one for a touchdown), 32 tackles and four broken-up passes.
Milton was a 3-star prospect from Folkston, Georgia, in 2011.
4. Adoree’ Jackson, CB, USC
Adoree’ Jackson was the Trojans’ No. 1 kick returner in 2014 as a true freshman, returning 23 kicks for 684 yards and two touchdowns. His average of 29.74 yards per return earned him the No. 5 spot in the nation, and his two scores made him one of only 11 kick returners to find the end zone twice.
Jackson picked up another 138 yards and three scores on 10 grabs as a receiver, but he is listed as a cornerback. On defense, he recorded 49 tackles (45 solo), four tackles for a loss, nine broken-up passes and one forced fumble.
He came to USC as a 5-star and the No. 1-ranked cornerback in the nation, per 247Sports. Jackson also runs track for the Trojans.
3. Tom Hackett, P, Utah
Arguably the best punter in the FBS in 2014, Utah’s Tom Hackett is set for a blockbuster senior season in 2015.
Hackett finished last season ranked No. 3 in yards per punt with 46.7, just behind Idaho’s Austin Rehkow (47.75) and Alabama’s JK Scott (48). What gives Hackett the edge—just like Arizona’s Drew Riggleman—is that he earned his average with almost double the punts.
Where Rehkow booted 44 and Scott kicked 55, Hackett popped 80, tying him for the 12th most in the entire nation.
The last time a punter averaged more than 46 yards per kick on 80-plus attempts was in 2011, when Louisiana Tech’s Ryan Allen posted a 46.12 on 83 punts and Idaho’s Bobby Cowan went 46.41 on 88.
Hackett, from Melbourne, Australia, won the Ray Guy award last season, becoming the first Pac-12 punter ever to do so.
2. Roberto Aguayo, K, Florida State
Only two kickers attempted more field goals in 2014 than Florida State’s Roberto Aguayo, who had 30 tries. It’s even more impressive when you consider he was the fifth-most accurate kicker in the FBS last season.
Aguayo was a perfect 18-of-18 inside the 40-yard line, with the only misses coming on a 41-yarder at Louisville, a 40-yarder versus Boston College and then the 54-yard try at the end of the first half against Oregon in the semifinal game.
Despite the fantastic performance, it was a step down from 2013 when he went 21-of-22 for 95.5 percent.
Aguayo, a former 3-star from Groveland, Florida, will be a junior this season.
1. De’Mornay Pierson-El, WR, Nebraska
With 321 yards on 23 catches, Nebraska’s De’Mornay Pierson-El didn’t necessarily set the world on fire as a true freshman receiver in 2014. But his 596 yards and three touchdowns as a punt returner were close to all-world.
How good was it?
The three scores tied him for the most in the nation, and his average of 17.53 yards per return was No. 3 in the FBS. Only Auburn’s Quan Bray (18.13) and Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett (19.14), both seniors, were better.
Pierson-El came to Nebraska as a 3-star from Alexandria, Virginia, in 2014.