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
30/37 Field Goals (81.1%) 34/36 Extra Points (94.4%)
Looking at the stats of Mason Crosby’s year, it doesn’t fall far from his career percentages. Crosby has a career percentage of 80.4% on field goals and 98% on extra points. Those looking in from the outside wouldn’t think anything of that but those of us who watched this year know it’s a different story.
Call it extremely bad luck as every kick, except for the missed PAT against Buffalo, had a major ramification on a game. Crosby’s first miss came at the end of regulation against the Vikings, that game ended in a tie. The infamous game in Detroit, Crosby missed four field goals and one extra point. That’s 13 points left on the field in a game the Packers lost by eight. He missed a field goal in the first quarter against Seattle when the Packers lost by three, and he missed a field goal with under two minutes left to go in the three point loss to the Cardinals. That’s a rough year.
It was also a down year for Crosby on kickoffs. He only had touchbacks on 41 of his 83 kickoffs. That’s a 49.3% and the only kicker that had a lower percentage than that was Sam Martin in Detroit (46.5%).
If we turn to the positives, Crosby was 5-7 from over 50 yards with a long of 53. He missed just two field goals and one extra point in Green Bay. That is an accomplishment in itself. With the bad weather and wind that can fill Lambeau Field, Green Bay is one of the toughest places to kick in the league. Crosby also bounced back well from that disastrous Detroit game. The next week, he went 3/3 on extra points and 4/4 in field goals including the game winning field goal against San Francisco. He wound up as the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week for that performance.
Punter: JK Scott
71 punts, 3,176 yards gross, 44.7 gross average, 38.8 net average, one blocked punt, nine touchbacks, 19 downed inside the 20 (26.7%)
JK Scott was a fifth round draft pick in 2018 and made last year’s punter, Justin Vogel, expendable. Oddly enough, looking back at Vogel’s stats from 2017, they were almost identical punters. Vogel had a slightly higher net average but the potential of Scott was worth the draft pick.
Scott’s long frame lets him generate a lot of power out of his leg and his most noticeable trait is that he rarely lets his plant foot come off the ground when he punts. While his average (44.7) is in the lower half of the league, the biggest positive is that he gets a hang time close to five seconds. That led to 26 fair catches, which was second in the league. Hopefully, new special teams coach, Sean Mennenga, can work with Scott to improve his distance while keeping that hang time.
Long Snapper: Hunter Bradley
Bradley was selected in the seventh round in 2018 and replaced the trio of Brent Goode, Taybor Pepper and Derek Hart from 2017. Goode was a mainstay in Green Bay since 2008 but it was time to find someone younger going forward.
Bradley had a very good year as far as long snappers go. While he did have one bad snap that lead to a blocked punt, he did not have the same consistency troubles that Pepper or Hart had last year. Bradley doesn’t offer much in the realm of covering kicks as he ended up with only one tackle but very few if any long snappers provide much in coverage anymore.
Kick Returners: Ty Montgomery, Bashaud Breeland, J’Mon Moore, Jamaal Williams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Trevor Davis
One of the biggest flaws of the 2018 special teams came in the return game. The Packers had absolutely no one who provided a consistent return game or even pose a threat to opponents. The best returner the Packers had was Trevor Davis. While Davis has the speed and shiftiness to be a very good returner, he was snake bitten with injuries all year. Davis only got into two games midway through the season where he only got one kick return for 20 yards.
With Davis succumbed to injuries at the start of year, the Packers turned to Ty Montgomery. Montgomery returned kicks last year and has been very average at best. Montgomery averaged 20 yards on his ten kick returns. Montgomery was traded to Baltimore after he decided to take a kick out of the end zone and fumbled with just over two minutes left in the game versus the Rams. That denied Aaron Rodgers the chance to run the two minute drill and the Packers lost by two points.
After the Montgomery trade, the Packers tried many faces on kick return but never settled on one person more than the other. Bashaud Breeland got the most returns with eight but averaged only 21.6 yards per return. Jamaal Williams, Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Davis got their chance but also only averaged in the low twenties per return as well.
If there is a little hope it might have been with J’Mon Moore. While he only had four returns on the year, he averaged 25.5 yards per return. While that’s nothing to go crazy about, with more work, maybe being a return man could be in Moore’s future. At least it could give the Packers an option after Davis in 2019.
Punt Returners: Tramon Williams, Randall Cobb, Trevor Davis, Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson, Kevin King
Punt returner was just as big an issue as the kick returner. With Trevor Davis injured most of the year, the Packers didn’t have many options here either so they seemed to try anyone. While it was only two games, Davis was the best returner. He had four returns and averaged 11 yards per return.
The Packers did try some of the young players with Jaire Alexander, Josh Jackson and Kevin King. Jackson and King only had three attempts on the season but all were fair caught. The electric Alexander, how had a history of being a good returner in college, only got four attempts and averaged 6.3 yards per.
For the most consistency, the Packers turned to Tramon Williams and Randall Cobb. Williams got the most chances as he had 12 returns for and averaged, a team leading, 6.9 yards per attempt. When he was healthy, Randall Cobb also got some punt returns. Cobb averaged 6.6 yards on his seven attempts. Not much to brag about with these two as far as average went but they stepped up when the Packers needed them and tried to give the team a spark like when they were younger.
Overall Grade: F
Looking at the main special teams players in Mason Crosby, JK Scott and Hunter Bradley, giving a F might be a little harsh. Between the three of them, I probably would have been more generous and given a D. However, we have to look at the bigger picture here. With the mess that was the return game adding into the poor coverage teams that Ron Zook lead out there week after week, the only option was to give an F.
I can’t remember a time when the coverage and return games were so poor. From all the successful fake punts against, to the fake field goal against New England, the Packers just never seemed prepared or had given the proper time to practice for what each team threw at them. Gladly, it lead to the end of Ron Zook as special teams coordinator.
Sean Mennenga takes over in 2019 and he will have his hands full. Let’s hope he gets Mason Crosby back on track and keeps developing JK Scott. Still, the biggest concern will be in the return game. Getting Trevor Davis healthy will be a big help, otherwise the Packers need to put a high priority finding someone in free agency or the draft.