The All-NFC North Special Teams unit is the third and final installment of our NFC North 2022 awards. Special teams may not be the most important part of a team, but they can tilt games one way or another. Let’s see who made the cut.
Criteria: Stats Plus Impact
While statistics are important when evaluating a player’s season, one must also look at the overall impact of a player on his team. The players chosen for this list represent the best at their respective positions, relative to the other players in the NFC North specifically.
Speaking of choosing players, here’s a special shout-out to the NFC North writers at Stadium Rant. Big thanks to my colleagues who collaborated on this list with their ideas and expertise regarding the NFC North. Make sure you give these guys a follow on Twitter and then check out all of their great content on Stadium Rant.
All-NFC North: Kicker
Cairo Santos – Chicago Bears. Santos has only missed two field goals on the year, and he has gone four for five in attempts of 50+ yards. While both Mason Crosby and Michael Badgley have better extra point percentages, Santos’ 90% field goal percentage leads the NFC North. Further, Crosby has yet to hit a field goal of more than 50 yards, and Michael Badgley has only played in eight games for the Detroit Lions.
All-NFC North: Punter
Jack Fox – Detroit Lions. The field position battle in a football game is huge, and a good punter is a necessity in the NFL. In the NFC North, there are three punters that were in the mix for the All-NFC North award; the other two were Packers’ Pat O’Donnell and Vikings’ rookie Ryan Wright (more to come on him later). But we will give the nod to the Lions’ punter Jack Fox, who is leading the division in yards per punt with 48.7.
While Wright’s stats look better on paper, he also has 23 more punts than Fox (should I be worried about what that says about my Vikings?). Fox has been a consistent player for the Lions all season and is finishing a strong, third-year campaign.
All-NFC North: Returners
Kene Nwangwu – Minnesota Vikings. Nwangwu leads the division with 620 total kick return yards and is one of just three players in the NFL with a kick return touchdown. His touchdown came on Thanksgiving night against the New England Patriots and was a huge momentum boost and response in a very back-and-forth game.
He now has a return touchdown in each of his first two seasons, and we may be looking at the next great return man in the NFC North.
Keisean Nixon – Green Bay Packers. I elected not to give him the title of “punt returner” specifically, because most of his stats this season are from his kick returns. He is close to Nwangwu with 617 kick return yards of his own and has only recently switched to taking over punt return duties for the Packers. That said, he already is averaging 14 yards per return on punts and has been one of the few consistent playmakers on this Packers’ special teams unit. If he had been returning punts all season, I have little doubt he would have similar numbers to the other top punt returners in the NFC North.
And in addition to being a special teams playmaker, we may be seeing more of Nixon’s versatility on defense in the coming years as well.
All-NFC North: Coverage Playmaker
C.J. Moore – Detroit Lions. With only eight total tackles on the year, C.J. Moore doesn’t exactly represent top-tier production. I’ll remind you, however, that the criteria here are stats plus impact.
Against the Vikings last week, Moore had the longest run of the game by any player on this fake punt. C.J. Moore has been doing this sort of thing for a few years now and is one of those players who can contribute to team success from primarily special teams snap counts.
And yes I recognize that this is the 2022-specific All-NFC North team. Regardless, he is making his presence felt for the surging Lions.
All-NFC North: Special Teams Rookie Of The Year
Ryan Wright, punter, Minnesota Vikings. We probably could have selected Wright for the starting punter position, given his 48.3% inside the 20 rate, and the fact that he has yet to record a touchback. Instead, special teams rookie of the year for the NFC North will have to suffice.
Wright burst onto the scene in training camp, winning the Vikings’ punting job from incumbent Jordan Berry, and he has only confirmed the coaches’ decision throughout his first NFL season. He is continually gaining back field position momentum for the Vikings, and his 73-yard punt is one yard ahead of Pat O’Donnell’s 72-yard punt for the longest in the division this year. Not that a team wants their punter to be one of their more dominant players, but having a good one is important, and Ryan Wright is on a path to being great.
I’m sure this list will leave some people wondering why some players were left off of this list. I believe this to be the nature of special teams. Sure, we can easily pull stats on a kicker’s percentage, a return man’s yards per return, and even the amount of tackles by a coverage guy.
But, we all know who we like on our own teams, and they may not always show up on everyone’s radar. Personally, I can think of Heath Farwell and Chris Walsh from years ago as a Vikings fan, though I’m not sure fans of rival teams would necessarily remember those names. This year, I’m a fan of our long snapper Andrew DePaola, because, in addition to being a solid snapper, I often-times see him at the end of a play being a part of the tackle.
So, Who Needs A Shout Out?!
Click on my Twitter handle above and tell me who your favorite special teams’ guys are. How many of your favorites should have made our list? I’d love to hear what you think!
And thanks for giving our All-NFC North team articles a read. Let’s have an exciting rest of the season!