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Packers 2017 Roster Grades: Punting success led special teams improvement

The Packers upgraded their punting game and punt coverage in 2017, helping them improve their special teams units overall from the previous year.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Minnesota Vikings Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports

Over a two-week span, we at Acme Packing Company are breaking down the 2017 Green Bay Packers position-by-position. Today we conclude the analysis with a look at the Packers’ special teams units.

Kicker: Mason Crosby

15/19 field goals (78.9%), 33/35 PATs (94.3%)

Crosby had never attempted fewer than 28 field goals in a season before 2017, which makes his 19 attempts a stunningly low number. Of course, this was largely due to the offense’s inconsistency (read: inability to move the football) and their odd success scoring touchdowns in the red zone. In fact, the Packers somehow ranked fourth in the NFL in red zone touchdown percentage at 61.9%, but came in just 24th in red zone opportunities.

In fact, Crosby had more than two field goal attempts in just one contest, the Packers’ 23-16 victory over the Bears in week nine.

Two of Crosby’s misses came from 50-plus yards, and he had a bit of a midseason slump; all of his misses came in the five games between weeks seven and 11, and the only game in that stretch in which he did not miss a kick was the shutout against the Ravens when he never even attempted one. In addition, he dealt with a new holder and three different long-snappers, who can be blamed for at least a couple of the misses.

On kickoffs, Crosby hit touchbacks just over 50% of the time, right about average for the league overall. One bonus was that the Packers successfully recovered both onside kicks that they attempted in 2017.

Punter: Justin Vogel

71 punts, 3,155 yards gross, 44.4 gross average, 41.6 net average, 2 touchbacks, 26 punts downed inside the 20 (26.8%)

Vogel, an undrafted rookie out of the University of Miami, won the punting job in training camp, partially by default after Jacob Schum’s injury. However, he displayed both a strong leg and a talent for directional punting in the preseason, as well as the propensity to occasionally shank a kick once in a while.

Throughout the season, Vogel continued to display those skills, and if not for the occasional shank, he could have been among the league leaders in gross average. However, his net average ranked seven in the NFL, which speaks well of both Vogel’s directional skills and the Packers’ coverage teams.

Long-Snappers: Brett Goode, Taybor Pepper, Derek Hart

The Packers went through three long-snappers in 2017. Hart had the job in training camp initially before Goode was signed. Goode’s injury gave way to Pepper, who had one poor snap in a game and got his foot stepped on in practice, leading to Hart’s return. Once Goode’s injury settlement expired, he took Hart’s place for a second time and finished out the year.

As usual, Goode was accurate with every snap, though he provides little in punt coverage. However, the rest of the Packers’ punt team did an excellent job as detailed above.

Kick/Punt Returner: Trevor Davis

Kickoffs: 31 returns, 707 yards, 22.8 average
Punts: 24 returns, 289 yards, 12.0 average

Davis finished 7th in kickoff return average among 12 qualifying players and third among 25 punt returners in 2017. At times, he did look exceptionally dangerous with the ball in his hands, like against the Browns when he set up the Packers’ tying touchdown with a 65-yard return. However, too often Davis seemed to have no concept of where he was on the field, often catching punts inside the Packers’ ten- and five-yard lines rather than letting them fall and giving them an opportunity to bounce into the end zone for touchbacks.

Overall Grade: B

The punt coverage unit got more work than usual in 2017, and that unit clearly led the way for the special teams overall. Net punting improved by more than two yards per kick from last season, and Vogel’s 7th-place ranking was way up from Schum’s 24th in 2016.

Meanwhile, Davis continues to show that he can be a dynamic punt returner if he can just learn to be smarter about when to call for a fair catch versus letting the ball hit the ground.

On kickoffs, the Packers were right about league average, but having a pair of successful onside kicks is a nice plus.

The kicking game was a bit of a struggle, but more of that blame should go to the personnel changes at long-snapper than anyone else. Crosby did miss a few kicks, to be sure, but not enough to make him a concern in 2018.

Overall, the Packers significantly improved their composite special teams ranking, moving up from 29th in 2016 to 16th in Rick Gosselin’s ranks for this year. DVOA saw a similar change, pumping them up from 21st to 14th. All told, it was a positive year, and the change at punter was a big reason why.