The 2014 NFL season is almost here, and it is time to preview this season’s edition of the Atlanta Falcons. In part four, we took an in-depth look at the team’s special teams. If you missed it, be sure to check out our defensive line, linebacker and defensive back previews.
We’ve reached the least “sexy” part of any football preview, as we break down the special teams. On one hand, there is a significant part of this crew that looks exactly the same for the Atlanta Falcons, but on the other, there is a potential Hall of Famer (no, really, he is) lurking at the back-end. Let’s take a look at the specifics.
Everyone loves Matt Bosher. If we put aside his punting (for now), Bosher is well-known for his entertaining and hard-hitting prowess as a tackler, and he has put together several memorable plays without the mention of his punting leg. In addition, Bosher remains one of the better kick-off men in the league, ranking in the top-5 in touchback percentage in 2013, and that makes him extremely valuable.
From a punting perspective, 2013 was a good year for the 26-year-old Bosher, as he finished ninth in the NFL in punting average (46.6 yards per punt) and the overall unit finished sixth in the league in net punting (41.1 yards per punt). This is an area where the Falcons should not worry unless there is an injury to Bosher.
At 39 years old, Matt Bryant is racing against Father Time, but he is winning that race to this point. In 2013, Bryant converted 24 of 27 field goal attempts, and he has never made less than 86% of his tries while wearing a Falcons uniform. There is a faction of the fan base that would love to see a more powerful kicker suiting up for Atlanta, but Bryant knocked down a 53-yarder last season, and until he falls off the cliff, he’s the guy.
Welcome to Atlanta, Devin Hester. Hester has been in the news after issuing some comments about a preference to stay in Chicago, but if we forgive that (and we should, given that he was employed by the Bears for eight seasons), the Falcons are getting a potentially fantastic player in the return game. Hester is 31 years old, likely indicating that his “peak” is behind him, but the former Miami Hurricane led the NFL in total kick return yardage last season (1,436 yards), and he finished sixth in yards per return among qualified players.
In short, Devin Hester is probably the best returner in the history of the NFL (18 touchdowns!), and provided that he’s healthy, he’s the primary option. Falcons fans probably shouldn’t expect historic production, but he’s the best player at the position in Atlanta since the prime of Allen Rossum.
Behind Hester, RB Jacquizz Rodgers is currently listed as the backup kick returner, with Robert McClain as the backup punt returner. You can bet that Mike Smith and company will explore any and all options if Hester is injured, but until then, rest easy.
As a group, the Atlanta Falcons possess no “holes” on special teams, and that is a blessing in and of itself. Long snapper Josh Harris has done a nice job in short time with the team, Bosher and Bryant are better than league-average, and Hester was still elite in 2013. This is an area of strength on paper, and it should be treated as such.