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Packers 2016 Grades: Specialists let fans kick back and relax

Green Bay’s kickers did a solid job this season, but Mason Crosby capped off the year with a bang in Dallas.

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Jacksonville Jaguars Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Today, Acme Packing Company continues the examination of the Green Bay Packers’ 2016 roster. Each day over the next two weeks, we will break down a different position on the roster with examinations of the players on the 53-man roster in 2016, the contributions of new additions and players who signed new contracts, and players who have contracts expiring this offseason.

The Kicker and Punter influence the outcome of games far beyond common conceptions. From establishing field position to putting points on the board, a kicker can save a season single-handedly, and a punter, by making an opposing offense go just a bit farther than they otherwise would, can force them to run more plays, and increase their odds of making a mistake. Punters and Kickers can provide you with free, easy yardage, or put you in a bad state. In 2016, The Packers brought back a longtime fixture in Mason Crosby, and a brand new addition in Jacob Schum.

Kicker - Mason Crosby

Regular Season: 26/30 FGs (86.7%), 44/47 PAT (94%)
Playoffs: 3/4 FGs (75%), 10/10 PAT (100%)

The advanced metrics kept by Football Outsiders are not fans of either Packer specialist, but in this case I will defer to traditional stats and scouting. Kicking in the NFC North presents special challenges, especially as the weather cools later in the year, and while advanced stats attempt to control for this, I believe that remains an inexact science. Crosby made 80% of his field goals for the 4th year in a row, and his 5th in 6 seasons. The Packers are conservative about overreacting to poor seasons, and every year they have continued to trust in Crosby after his disastrous 2012 has been a win for that philosophy. He’s not perfect and despite his playoff heroics against Dallas, he does struggle a bit with longer kicks, something to keep an eye on as he enters his mid-30s. His kickoffs are also merely adequate.

All of that said, making kicks from 50 yards and in is the name of the game for the Packer kicker. With an Aaron Rodgers-led offense, 52+ yarders are almost certainly poor choices from an efficiency standpoint anyway, and to some extent his lack of a huge leg ultimately serves the team well. Crosby is a model of consistency who signed a new, front-loaded deal before the 2016 season. Going forward he should remain solid and cap friendly.

Punter - Jacob Schum

56 punts, 39.1 net yards per punt, 18 FC, 11 OOB, 4 touchbacks, 16 returns for 151 yards.

We probably don’t give punters enough credit. Back in the old days of the NFL, the punter’s job was just to kick it as far as he could, every time, but as time has gone on, punters have added so many skills to their repertoires from controlling bounces upon impact, to angling out of bounds within a few feet, to varying hang time for coverages. Punters are not so much strong-legged grunts as they are golfers, trying to hit a perfect drive while undergoing assault from a legion of burly men. It’s a tough job, and finding a good punter has been very difficult for many teams, the Packers included.

Green Bay moved on from Tim Masthay after perhaps his finest season, and Jacob Schum was simply unable to match his predecessor. Masthay was happy to trade some distance to limit returns. Over 81 punts in 2015 he allowed 41 returns, but for just 174 total yards. Whether Packer punt coverage was a contributor or not, Schum allowed almost as many return yards in fewer than half the total returns, all while averaging almost 4 yards less. Schum wasn’t all bad. He often showed a deft touch when burying opponents inside the 20 and some of his directional work was impressive, but while his short game showed promise, his driver often deserted him. Terrible shanks brought down his average, and to some extent a shanked punt is almost as bad as a turnover. Punting in Green Bay is as difficult as kicking and we should cut Schum the same slack we cut Mason Crosby, but the lack of consistency on booming punts is concerning.

Overall, Schum managed to rally to escape disaster status, but he’s still just a guy at this point.

Long Snapper - Brett Goode

I will not pretend to be an expert in long-snapping. It’s a hard job that only a few people do, and while every team needs one, no one gives much thought to the long snapper. The best thing you can say for Goode is that you didn’t hear much about him this season. Hearing about your long snapper usually means something tragic or comic occurred. Goode seems to have carved out his niche, and I expect he’ll be back.

Overall: B-

Crosby remains one of the league’s most accurate kickers, and his bombs in the Dallas game were worth every penny of his salary, especially his 56-yard knuckler. Schum has room for improvement, but it’s possible he started to show some later in the year. Goode is good. Green Bay’s special teams overall often leave something to be desired, but that is generally more a result of overall team health than anything else, and this season some of Schum’s return issues were likely at least partially the result of lack of depth on coverage units. Kicking in Green Bay is a challenge and special teams as a unit held up their end of the bargain.