Top 10 special teams players of the decade

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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.

38 responses to “Top 10 special teams players of the decade

  1. As a 49er fan VERY happy to see Andy Lee on this list. Of course he got a lot of practice, pretty sure some of the niner teams he was on set records for 3 and outs.

  2. Good list. Three kickers, three return guys, two punters, two cover guys. All deserving. But no love for long snappers.

  3. Is this some kind of a joke?

    Slater is clearly the most dominant of the last decade. The guy has made the gunner spot into an art form. Tucker? The best kicker, maybe, but Gostowski certainly is right there and the better postseason numbers by a gazillion.

    Hester has also been retired for a while now. Strange list.

  4. INteresting to see Andy Lee make it and no Shane Lechler. The criteria is odd. Slater has helped NE go to 5 SBs and win 3 of them.

    He’s bordering on having a HOF career, while Tucker is not.

  5. Since there in another year in this decade (decade started in 2011 and ends the last day of 2020) shouldn’t we wait until it’s actually over before naming all decade teams.

  6. Slater should be number one! He has played 3 more seasons this decade than Tucker and made more of an impact in more games. He has also played in *5* super bowls this decade. His impact in Super Bowls LI and LII alone eclipse Tucker’s entire postseason resume. Tucker has kicked for a mediocre team in few pressure situations for most of his career.

  7. Everybody saying Josh Cribbs, in the past decade he only had one punt return for a TD, zero kickoff returned for TD’s. Almost all of his damage was done in the first decade of the 2000’s.

  8. Since there in another year in this decade (decade started in 2011 and ends the the last day of 2020) shouldn’t we wait until it’s actually over before naming all decade teams.

    Erm the decade started in 2010 and finishes 2019

  9. Slater at #5 is a complete joke, he’s by far the best gunner that the league has ever seen by a very large margin. If any special teams player that is not a kicker or returner can make it into the hall of fame, it should definitely be Matthew Slater.

  10. According to this common definition, decades generally encompass the time span from years ending with 0 to years ending with 9, such as 2020 – 2029.

  11. I’ve not thought much about Matthew Slater going into the HOF but wow, he has dominated in his position for many years, has been on multiple Super Bowl winning teams and has lead an exemplary life off the field as well.

    Matthew Slater’s Dad, Jackie Slater, is in the HOF. What a story if Matthew gets in.

  12. Slater at #5 is a complete joke, he’s by far the best gunner that the league has ever seen by a very large margin. If any special teams player that is not a kicker or returner can make it into the hall of fame, it should definitely be Matthew Slater.

    You’re probably the guy who laughed at tasker and the HOF. Tasker is the greatest there ever was and deserved to be in 10 years before slater

  13. Until two years ago I thought Dan Bailey could be on this list. He was hovering in the 88% range and had been solid for Dallas for six seasons. Then he struggled, got injured, made too much money and was dropped from the team. But he’s playing well with Minnesota now and has a chance to reclaim himself as one of the best kicker’s in the game.

  14. He may or may not be the best, but there’s been no better Punter than Thomas Morstead. He’s so good, Bill Belichick has gone on Two 45-minute rants on how great of a punter Morstead has been.

  15. Guys who kick or punt 9+ games a season in a dome or a near dome condition should really be more closely scrutinized compared to the guys who kick in unfriendly climes at least nine games a season. Gould should be on this list ahead of Bryant. Mason Crosby has had a terrific bounce back season with the Packers and should also be considered.

  16. This is actually a great list. Wish I wouldve seen jon condo on here, but alot of talent on the list nonetheless.

  17. If a gunner could ever get into the Hall of Fame, Slater would be the guy. The dude is so fast, so smart. Shuts down so many opposing returns before they can start.

    Special teams are sorely underrepresented in The Hall, but let’s face it, most fans don’t know most of the best players on ST.

  18. Punter is the most underrated position in football. It won the Patriots a super bowl last year and Ryan Allen was rewarded by getting cut and not picked up by another team.

    That said, Belichick made the right decision going with Bailey.

  19. Thomas Morstead regularly flips field position for the Saints and was the kickoff guy for the first 6ish years of his career. Lots of touchbacks on kickoffs. Hardly any on punts and one of the most accurate directional punters who’s ever played. He just doesnt get as many opportunities as the other guys. Bellichek has called him one of the best punters in the league. I’d bump andy Lee for him.

  20. UBMurda TV says:
    December 23, 2019 at 6:31 pm
    So no Deion Sanders or Dante Hall lol

    Sanders retired in 2005, Hall in 2008. Kind of hard to make an all-decade team in a decade where you didn’t play, no?

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