Not Looking So Special
Yup, this is pretty much how Kassim Osgood always looked. Source: John Munson/The Star-Ledger via US PRESSWIRE
On March 6, 2010, the Jaguars signed special teams ace Kassim Osgood in a move that clearly reflected the value Gene Smith and the Jaguars placed on special teams at the time. With perennial special teams pro-bowlers Osgood and Montell Owens, the Jaguars were ready to elevate their special teams game to an elite level, especially with Josh Scobee and Adam Podlesh handling the kicking duties. The following season saw a huge leap in special teams play according to advanced statistics, thanks mainly to improvements in kickoff coverage and punt coverage (a direct Osgood impact?). To quantify these improvements, I borrowed the advanced statistics of the good fellas over at Football Outsiders.
A quick intro to Football Outsiders’ methods for quantifying special teams play: Essentially, the statistics shown are “an estimate of how many points, compared to league average, each team receives from the five elements of special teams: field goals/extra points, kickoffs, kick returns, punts, punt returns.” These estimates are then combined and converted into a percentage, the Special Teams DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), which can be used to relatively rank teams’ Special Teams performance. For those looking for a more through explanation, go here.
As you can see, the special teams play significantly increased, leading to a top 10 ranking for the Jaguars’ 2010 special teams unit. Although their ranking dropped to 13th once Football Outsiders took weather and other factors out of the equation, it’s clear that a kickoff coverage (KICK) and punt coverage (PUNT) played a major role in the Jaguars’ special teams improvement.
Yet, a year later, the Jaguars were back in the high 20’s in terms of their special teams ranking. What changed, you may ask? (If you are indeed asking this, you clearly never paid attention to the embarrassment that was our punting game). Losing an accurate and strong-legged punter in free-agency was key, as we went from a unit that was tied for 5th in punt coverage to a unit that was 25th. We also fell from 4th to 11th in kickoff coverage, suggesting that a decline in coverage probably also had a little bit to do with the drop in special teams ranking, not just the change in punter. However, we must also remember that 2011 was the first year the kickoffs moved up to the 35-yard line, which increased the influence of kicker leg-strength and decreased the influence of kickoff coverage play in terms of overall ST kickoff coverage.
The more limited influence of kickoff coverage with the new kickoff rules was clearly the reasoning behind Kassim Osgood’s release this offseason – well that and the fact that he can’t catch a football… not that that’s the basis by which the Jaguars judge receivers. The incompetency of Matt Turk was clearly why Gene Smith made his most questionable pick thus far as a GM, picking a punter in the third round. While this pick clearly angered much of the fanbase, including myself, it might be useful to put this pick in perspective. During the dismal Turk days of 2011, Jaguars fans were irate that Gene didn’t shell out a few more bucks to pay an elite punter the way he deserved to be paid. However, if you take an elite punter in the third round and paying him a third round pick salary ($2.9 million over 4 years) instead of paying an elite punter an elite punter salary ($8 million over 4 years), you’re effectively deciding whether or not to trade $5 million for a third round pick. Even though the Jaguars are second in the league in salary-cap space, I would certainly rather give up a third round pick in order to keep $5 million. Of course, this includes a number of assumptions:
- That your 3rd pick is actually going to be an elite punter as well.
- That you get to carry over your $5 million dollars next season if you don’t use it.
- That your elite punter is going to remain an elite punter.
Adam Podlesh, big disappointment. Source: Jerry Lai-US PRESSWIRE
Although only two of these three assumptions held true, thankfully for the Jaguars, they were the first two. The NFL voted to allow teams to carry over unused salary cap space; in addition, Bryan Anger has shown to be an elite punter in his first three games of the season, ranking 1st in punts and total distance (really more of an indictment to our offense than anything else), 2nd in average distance, and tied for 5th in net punt average. A side note – Adam Podlesh is 26th in average distance and 24th in net punt average. One point, Gene Smith. Of course, this also assumes that we had no other cheaper punting options that could perform similarly.
Well let’s take a look at the other facets of special teams this season – how have we been doing so far?
We’re ranked 21st with a weighted rank of 16th, which isn’t nearly as bad as I thought, especially considering how bad our special teams looked against the Vikings (blocked extra point, terribly executed squib kick). Jalen Parmele has given a boost to our kick return game, which has badly needed a boost for a while now, and our kick coverage has dropped a few points (can Scobee not kick the ball into the end zone consistently?), but besides that we’re looking pretty on par with Jaguars special teams from previous years. If there’s one thing we can bring up, though, it’s how bad our punt return teams have looked over Gene Smith’s tenure. Perhaps Gene just has trouble evaluating quick players that can catch the ball?
— Zain Gowani