As the decade comes to a close, we’re creating some Top 10 lists for 2010 to 2019. Up next, our Top 10 special teams players.
1. Justin Tucker: No kicker in NFL history has ever converted better than 90 percent of their field goal attempts through their career. Eight years into Tucker’s stellar tenure with the Baltimore Ravens, Tucker is doing just that. Mike Vanderjagt’s 86.5 percent career mark is the best ever from a player whose career is over. While other active players are currently exceeding that mark as well, Tucker is the gold standard with a 90.6 percent conversion rate.
2. Devin Hester: Hester had half of his stellar career bisected by the start of the decade and yet he still deserves the nod as the most prolific returner of the past 10 years. Hester recorded seven punt return touchdowns and one kickoff return touchdown since 2010, which is the most of any returner. His combined 7,095 return yards ranks second over that span only to Brandon Tate’s 7,708 on 82 fewer total returns.
3. Stephen Gostkowski: While Tucker is on pace to become the most consistent kicker ever, Gostkowski isn’t far behind. Gostkowski has converted 88.3 percent of his field goals this decade, trailing only Tucker. His 1,262 total points are a league-best. His consistency has been valued by the Patriots as they’ve won three Super Bowls and appeared in five over that span. His absence to injury this year has only amplified his value to New England.
4. Johnny Hekker: If a punter could ever be considered a weapon, Hekker might legitimately carry the moniker. Hekker is one of the league’s best legs, averaging 47.1 yards per over his eight seasons with the Rams. He’s a four-time first-team All-Pro selection and four-time Pro Bowler. His history as a high school quarterback also forced teams to legitimately fear fake punts as well, where Hekker has completed 13 of 22 attempts with 12 completions netting first downs.
5. Matthew Slater: There are very few players Bill Belichick decides is valuable enough to keep around year after year. Slater is one of those special players that can anchor down in New England. Slater is an eight-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time first-team All-Pro as a special teams star on coverage units. He’s racked up 94 tackles on special teams this decade for the Patriots.
6. Cordarrelle Patterson: If not for Hester, Patterson would be the standout returner of the decade and that’s even with his specialties relying almost entirely on kickoff returns only. Patterson’s 6,075 kickoff return yards and seven kickoff return touchdowns are the best in the league. His 29.93 yards per return average is over a yard-and-half better than any other player with at least 50 career kickoff returns.
7. Justin Bethel: Given Belichick’s affinity for special teams play, it’s not a surprise he found a way to get another star performer in Bethel to New England. Bethel is a three-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time first-team All-Pro. He’s racked up 91 special teams tackles in just eight seasons. He’s ranked in the top three in special teams tackles league-wide in five of the previous six seasons.
8. Matt Bryant: While a rough 2019 revival with Atlanta put a damper on the end of the decade, Bryant has nevertheless been terrific for the Falcons. His 88.1 percent field goal conversion rate is third behind Tucker and Gostkowski and he ranks fourth in total points.
9. Andre Roberts: A first-team All-Pro in 2018 with the Jets, Roberts has been a standout returner throughout the decade. His five combined returned touchdowns trail only Hester, Patterson and Jacoby Jones (6). His 6,222 total return yards rank third behind Tate and Hester.
10. Andy Lee: Before Hekker took his crown, Lee was the league’s best punter in the early stages of the decade and has remained among its best for most of that span. He’s earned two first-team All-Pro nods and one Pro Bowl appearance this decade while averaging nearly 48 yards per punt for the 49ers, Browns, Panthers and Cardinals.