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2019 SEC Unit Rankings: Special Teams

All of those hidden yards.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: APR 20 Georgia Spring Game
The man. The myth. The glasses.
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Last one, y’all. We’ve gone through every position group and now we get to the group that is its own platoon: the special teams.

Usually when we think of special teams, we think of kickers and punters. Maybe the return guy. And that’s it. But that’s not the full value of special teams. It’s in those dreaded hidden yards. How many yards does a team gain in an exchange of punts?

That takes into account not just the punter’s distance, but his directional ability. How often does the team allow a return? And for how much? I’ll show the breakdown on offense, and then show the simple net on defense, getting us a value of Exchange. How many yards is a team’s punting unit worth on each exchange?

“FC Rate” is fair catch rate, though that’s a tad misleading. It measures every punt that was not returned, whether it was a fair catch or not.

2018 Special Teams Stats

Punting Avg. Yd/Ret FC Rate Net Avg Opp Net Avg Exchange
Punting Avg. Yd/Ret FC Rate Net Avg Opp Net Avg Exchange
Auburn 43.96 3.36 80.7% 43.32 34.45 8.86
Texas A&M 50.98 6.29 58.0% 48.34 41.65 6.69
Georgia 42.56 12.8 88.4% 41.07 37.66 3.41
Vanderbilt 44.86 8.13 68.6% 42.31 39.02 3.29
Missouri 43.57 10.08 74.5% 41.00 37.77 3.23
Florida 43.64 8.56 71.4% 41.20 39.18 2.02
Tennessee 41.02 2 86.4% 40.74 39.90 0.84
LSU 43.12 4.92 80.6% 42.16 41.33 0.83
Kentucky 44.78 11.8 66.7% 40.85 41.23 -0.38
Mississippi State 38.86 7.43 87.5% 37.93 38.33 -0.40
South Carolina 43.92 7.67 69.4% 41.57 42.14 -0.57
Mississippi 40.41 15 79.6% 37.35 40.25 -2.90
Alabama 35.76 2.67 78.6% 35.19 39.20 -4.01
Arkansas 37.49 11.61 73.5% 34.41 42.06 -7.65

1. Georgia. Auburn tops our chart in Exchange, and we’ll get to them in a second, but our top unit is Georgia. The Dawgs only allowed FIVE returns last season. They gave up some yardage in order to prevent any risk of a return. They also took two punts to the house and had one of the best defensive net punt averages. Oh, and they boast an already legendary kicker in Rodrigo Blankenship, who actually considered turning pro early. As a kicker.

2. Texas A&M. First off, they crush the SEC in Net Average. The problem is they gave way too much of it back on defense because opposing punters turned into Ray Guy against them, booting it for a 44+ yard average. A&M had a decent return game, but kept starting behind the eight ball. Their other big issue is the unreliability of their kicker, Seth Small. This is an elite unit that had some bad luck.

3. Florida. Kind of middle of the pack on the punt exchange, though still score in the positives. They have an explosive return game that may be inconsistent, but it can generate points. The Gators again boast one of the best kickers in the nation, as Evan McPherson went 17-19 as a freshman.

4. Auburn. There’s not much Auburn can’t do in the punt game. They have the second best net average while punting and they are tops ion the SEC in the return game. Auburn returns more kicks than anyone, and they do it at a 10.75 yard average. A big part of that was Ryan Davis, but the Tigers did start to ease in some other returners. Still, expect a small step back. But the real issue is that Andres Carlson was atrocious last season, going 15-25 on field goal attempts.

5. LSU. The Tigers had a shockingly poor return game last season, something that rarely happens in Baton Rouge. That should almost certainly improve to go along with the team’s top tier punt game. They do need to find a replacement for a Lou Groza finalist, but the kicking game seems to be in good hands.

6. South Carolina. OK, they are slightly underwater on the exchange game, primarily due to the worst defensive net punt average in the SEC. Again, teams punt for a 44 yard average against them, so not much you can do to dig out of that hole. But they also boast Parker White, one of the league’s most accurate kickers.

7. Tennessee. The Vols are sort of middle of the pack at everything, but I’ll give them a boost for returning two punts for a touchdown. With Davis out of eligibility, Marquez Callaway might be the best return man in the conference.

8. Kentucky. Lynn Bowden doesn’t return the ball often, but when he does, he seems to end up in the end zone. They kept their heads just above water on the exchange, but they have that big play ability the teams ranked just below them don’t seem to have.

9. Vanderbilt. One of the best punting units in the SEC last season, but now they have to find themselves a new punter. They also boasted perhaps the worst kicker in the SEC last season, Ryley Guay went 13-22 on FG attempts.

10. Mississippi State. Part of having a great defense is that you can usually find some guys to unleash hell on special teams. State was a terror on coverage, even if they were fairly pedestrian at the actual kicking the ball stuff.

11. Missouri. Like Vandy, they lose their punter. Unlike Vandy, they allowed over 10 yards per return, which isn’t a good sign going forward. Tucker McCann had lots of volume but a poor average, going 24-33 on attempts.

12. Ole Miss. It gets bad at the bottom. Ole Miss was a disaster in coverage. Allowing 15 yards per return while averaging 3.27 yards on their end. The punt average differential covers up the huge gap in coverage units. Luke Logan was one of the top SEC kickers, hitting over 80% of his attempts, so there are some positives here.

13. Alabama. Why the hell does Bama have such terrible special teams? You would think on raw talent alone they could merit at least a middle of the pack finish. Their net average is second lowest in the SEC while their defensive average is right around that league average. They have one of the lowest return rates in the league, so it seems by design to simply not risk anything on the receiving end. Field goals, as always, were an adventure.

14. Arkansas. Truly wretched. Okay, Connor Limpert went 19-24 on field goals, so it’s not a total loss for the team which ranks dead last in net punting and 13th in defensive net punting. They actually have a decent return average, its just that they pull off a return so rarely. Oh yeah, and this happened.

Never not funny.