Scouting the AFC West: Special Teams

A position breakdown of the AFC West special teams. Who is the best return man? Has the strongest leg? What teams are helped by their special teams? What teams are hurt? Who would you want kicking the ball with the game on the line? Are any San Diego Chargers on the list? SDBoltReport.com tackles these questions and many more.

Mr. Overrated: Tim Dwight (KR) San Diego Chargers

This ranking is not due to Dwight's heart, but more for his performance as a return man. Dwight certainly has the speed to be electrifying, but if the Chargers hope to get the most out of his ability they need to limit the amount of hits he takes. The Chargers resigned Leon Johnson in the off-season and for good reason. Johnson put up better kick off and punt return numbers than Dwight. Dwight's health is very important to the Chargers' passing game. Whether he catches a lot of passes or not, his speedy presence must always be accounted for. The Chargers cannot afford to lose this dimension in their offense.

Mr. Underrated: David Binn (LS) San Diego Chargers

How much credit do long snappers actually get? Binn is not a household name but has managed to make a better living than most by doing just one thing really well. Aside from making the veteran minimum or a little more, Binn will never receive much credit outside of San Diego. But the Charger administration and fans know how much Binn means to their special teams. In any long snapping situation most coaches hold their breath, but not those who have had the privilege of coaching Binn.

Is he Yoda or a waste of space?: Morten Anderson (K) Kansas City Chiefs

A once great now has been relegated to just being "solid". Since the Chiefs have such a good offense it might not matter. There is no mystery when looking at Anderson. He is very good within the thirty-yard line, but from beyond thirty, his range drops off considerably. Consequently, the Chief's will either have to hunt for a player to handle the kick off duties or just settle for dealing with the opposition's solid field position. Since the Chiefs have a questionable defense, this might be too much of a risky proposition.

Old faces, new places: Chris Cole (KR) Oakland Raiders

Cole did a solid job as a kick returner last season for Denver. Now, though, he finds himself in a position where he will have to beat out either Doug Gabriel and Ronald Curry in training camp to return kicks for Oakland. The move by Cole was made because the Raiders need receiving help. But if he does not find himself positioned as the third or fourth receiver, then falling back to what has normally been his job security might no longer be an option. Cole is trying to still prove he was worth the third round draft choice the Broncos spent on him four years ago.

Put up or shut time: Jason Baker (P) Kansas City Chiefs

The numbers Baker put up last year just will not cut it. It is shocking in today's league when a punter cannot average above 40 yards a kick. His inside the twenty ratio was sitting around 26 percent, meaning most of kicks were in the open field and not pooch punts. Kansas City does not have a good enough defense where they can consistently put teams in good field position and hope to contain them. The Chiefs brought in another punter (Rodney Williams) to help motivate Baker in camp. It is doubtful that the Chiefs will let Baker go, but the move certainly does not suggest a vote of confidence.

Not quite there yet: Mike Scifres (P) San Diego Chargers

Scifres has big shoes to fill. Charger fans loved their Aussie punter Darren Bennett, and if Scifres hopes to gain the same level of fan support he has to not only kick booming punts but also do them with style. For the interim the Charger administration would settle for a consistent kicker who has an average good average, and enough touch to pin opposing teams deep when given the opportunity. When San Diego selected him he was thought to have one of the strongest legs in the draft. Now that the kicking duties are his, he must carry over the success he had in college to the NFL.

Same name, new player: Doug Gabriel (KR) Oakland Raiders

Not much was expected of Gabriel when he arrived in camp. Despite being a big athletic receiver, he was considered to have an up hill battle in training camp. An opportunity arrived, though, and Gabriel became big success amongst his teammates and coaches. Gabriel found a niche in the kicking game and appears to be the main guy coming into the season. The Raiders expect Ron Curry to carry some of the return load, but Gabriel is the man they want leading the charge. Wherever the numbers fall Oakland should benefit from having two big, athletic return men in the kicking game.

Newest player with the biggest impact potential: Nate Kaeding (K) San Diego Chargers

The Chargers used to boast one of the most dependable kicking games in the AFC. But now the Chargers find themselves starting from scratch. San Diego is relying on two players with little or no NFL experience to lead their special teams. Kaeding has the pedigree to become a big time kicker. Not only is he clutch, but also Kaeding has an extremely strong leg and will be expect to handle the kick off duties in addition to field goals. Kaeding did, though, come at a steep price. But if he evolves into the next John Carney, it is a price any team would pay ten out ten times.

On the hottest seat: Jason Baker (P) Kansas City Chiefs

The special team jobs are fairly secure for just about everyone in the division, except for, you guessed it. Traditionally the AFC West has played too good of special teams for any one team to be lagging behind. Kansas City's unit is exceptional in one regard but very weak in another. Baker is the weakest link to what could be an explosive unit and is wearing thin with the coaches' patience. If he turns things around Kansas City could have a very dependable unit. If not, the Chief's offense will have too much to overcome to make it deep in the playoffs.

El numero uno: Dante Hall (KR) Kansas City Chiefs

As said earlier, Kansas City is weak in one regard but phenomenal in another. Everyone is familiar with the records Hall broke last season and duplicating this accomplishment is highly unlikely. But, teams will adjust their entire special team's game plan around Hall. When Hall touches the ball, anything is possible. But when opposing teams do everything they can to keep the ball away from Hall they are more prone to making mistakes. Not to mention, the numerous pooch punts and kicking the ball out of bounds will naturally give the Chiefs good field position. Very few teams have an asset like Hall on their team.

RANKING THE SKILLS

Strongest leg: Shane Lechler (P) Oakland Raiders

This guy's leg strength is ridiculous. He is the premiere punter in football and considering the struggles Oakland had on offense last season, his accomplishments were that much more awing. Lechler averaged six punts a game and nearly 47 yards a kick.

Most accurate leg: Sebastian Janikowski (K) Oakland Raiders

Not only is Janikowski the most accurate field goal kicker in the AFC West, he has a very strong leg also. From 40-49 yards Janikowski was 9/10 last season. Any other kicker would be ecstatic if that were his average from 25 yards out let alone 40+.

Best punt returner: Phillip Buchanon (CB) Oakland Raiders

Buchanon did have his rookie troubles at corner, but played like a veteran when returning punts. His average was over thirteen yards a return and he scored two touchdowns. Many would argue Dante Hall, but Buchanon is spectacular in his own right.

Best kickoff returner: Dante Hall (WR) Kansas City Chiefs

As if this was a shock. Hall led the AFC in punt returns and finished second in kickoffs. Hall is a big play specialist who is relatively young in this league. If his skills do not escalate him into a starting receiver on offense, he will always have a home with special teams.

Most clutch: Jason Elam (K) Denver Broncos

Janikowski has to put together a few more seasons like last year before taking this spot from Elam. Elam has made a career of making game winning field goals, and with the expectations Denver has for this season, he is gearing himself up to make a couple big more.

RANKING THE TEAMS

1. Oakland Raiders: Simply put, this is the best special teams unit in football. Oakland is either number one (or close to it) at every key position. If it was not for this unit, there is no telling how worse off Oakland could have been last season.

2. Denver Broncos: Denver has a very strong unit even though it is not quite up to par with Oakland's. Denver plans to address the kick returner position with either rookies or players with little experience. This causes some concern but not enough to overshadow the other strengths.

3. Kansas City Chiefs: This is a feast for famine squad for Kansas City. There is no question that Kansas City has the best return game in the league. But the flip side to that coin is their kicking game remains one of the weakest in the NFL.

4. San Diego Chargers: This is the only suitable ranking considering the special teams unit has next to no experience. But with the pedigree of the incoming players, the Charger fans have plenty to be excited about.

ALL AFC West Team

K - Jason Elam - Denver Broncos
K - Sebastian Janikowski - Oakland Raiders
P - Shane Lechler - Oakland Raiders
P - Micah Knorr - Denver Broncos
KR - Dante Hall - Kansas City Chiefs
KR - Phillip Buchanon - Oakland Raiders

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