Special-teams progress documented in rankings

The Vikings went from having some of the worst special teams in a long time in 2008 to a top-10 ranking in 2009 in a study conducted by the Dallas Morning News. The rankings take into account 22 different categories on special teams.

Coming into training camp last year, there was a lot of discussion surrounding the dismal state of the Vikings special teams. With the 2008 Vikings team having one of the worst special teams performances in league history, they were consistently torched for big plays and the kickoff and punt return units were under the microscope.

The Vikings transformed their special teams into one of the best in the league in 2009 and have the numbers to back it up. The Dallas Morning News has devised a series of rankings for special teams that is about as complicated as trying to determine a passer rating by hand. In all, 22 categories were compared – ranking teams from 1 to 32 in each category and assigning points for each.

The Vikings finished ninth, making them one of five playoff teams in the top 10 – joining Dallas (No. 4), the New York Jets (No. 5), San Diego (No. 7) and Arizona (No. 8). The Vikings finished with 325.5 points – 5.5 points behind the Chargers, five points behind Arizona and two points ahead of Miami.

The Saints clearly didn't have special teams to thank for their Super Bowl championship, since New Orleans finished 29th out of 32 teams in the series of special teams rankings.

Surprisingly, some of the league's worst offenses and defenses had some of the best special teams play. Cleveland was far and away the best special teams unit, totaling just 215.5 points – 41 points fewer than No. 2 Tampa Bay and almost 60 points fewer than third-place Buffalo. All three of the top special teams in the Dallas study had losing records and will pick in the top 10 in April's rookie draft – Cleveland at No. 7, Tampa Bay at No. 2 and Buffalo at No. 9.

The Vikings didn't rank highest among NFC North teams. That honor went to the Bears, who finished sixth with 302 total points. Detroit finished 25th with 413.5 points and the Packers finished 31st with a whopping 460.5 points.

While the statistical breakdown can't adequately explain why so many bad teams can have such strong special teams play, it was noteworthy to see the teams at the bottom of the list – many of whom were disappointments. While the list did include both Super Bowl teams – Indianapolis at No. 28 and the Saints at No. 29 – some of the bigger hard-luck teams of 2009 were well represented on the list, including the Giants (No. 20), San Francisco (No. 21), Denver (No. 24), Tennessee (No. 26), Washington (No. 27), Jacksonville (No. 30) and Carolina (No. 32).

Many scoffed at first when new special teams coach Brian Murphy said he expected the Vikings to be among the best special teams in the league, especially coming off such a brutal 2008 season. But, the numbers don't lie – even those hard to decipher without a code book. The Vikings may not have been the best special teams in the NFL in 2009, but they most certainly made big strides and became one of the top units in the league.


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