We’re one day closer to the start of 2021 Steelers’ Training Camp at Heinz Field, which means we’re day closer to actual football, and no more articles ranking players, groups, etc.
If I may though, I have a few more pieces coming in that category. Today, I’m nearing the end of the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot. On Saturday, I highlighted the the division’s safeties; today, I take a look at the forgot trio of heroes on each team: the specialists.
That may sound boring to some, but they’re anything but boring when a big kick or punt is needed, and the snap must be picture perfect.
Let’s dive in.
1. BALTIMORE RAVENS
This group will be the top choice in the AFC North as long as Justin Tucker continues to kick the football at a historic level for the Baltimore Ravens.
Tucker is likely going to reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. He’s as automatic as it gets as a kicker, and is deadly anywhere inside the opponent’s 45-yard line. Think about that. Tucker has a career 90.7% make percentage, which his best in NFL history, and shows no signs of slowing down.
At punter, the Ravens still have veteran punter Sam Koch, who quietly continues to punt the football at a high level, excelling at directional punting. At 39 years old, Koch shows no signs of stopping, forming an All-Pro caliber duo with Tucker.
As for long snapper, the Ravens are breaking in a new one in first-year player Nick Moore, who takes over for decade-long long snapper Morgan Cox, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency this offseason. Cox was arguably the best long snapper in the game, so Moore has big shoes to fill. But with the way the Ravens coach them up on special teams, I wouldn’t bet on there being much of a falloff.
2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
If Justin Tucker wasn’t in the division, I’m sure Steelers’ kicker Chris Boswell would be talked about more as one of the best kickers in football. Since his disastrous 2018 season, Boswell has been terrific, converting 93.5% and 95.0% of his kicks in the black and gold, becoming an automatic three points once the Steelers work inside the 40-yard line.
He doesn’t have the strongest leg, but he’s exceptionally accurate and has steadily improved each year in the league.
At punter, the Steelers certainly have question marks, but the talent is there.
I think fans are a bit too hard on Jordan Berry overall, but he’s inconsistent. He has a big leg and can directionally punt well, but it’s too far and few between, which led to the selection of Pressley Harvin II in the 2021 NFL Draft. Harvin is a big body with a monster leg, but assuming he makes the roster is a bit of a stretch.
There is no debate at long snapper. Kameron Canaday has been passable for the Steelers the last few years. He’s not the best and an upgrade could certainly be found, but he’s familiar with the trio of specialists, which keeps him around.
It’s worth mentioning the Steelers brought in kicker Sam Sloman to handle some duties in preseason to try and keep Boswell fresh. It’s unlikely he plays so well that the Steelers move on from Boswell, but you never know in this league.
3. CLEVELAND BROWNS
The Browns have struggled in recent years to find consistency and longevity on special teams, but it looks like kicker Cody Parkey and punter Jamie Gillan are going to change that.
Parkey, he of “double doink” infamy, bounced back in a big way in 2020, converting 19-of-22 kicks for the Browns, giving Cleveland some consistency at a position of great need. Though it remains to be seen if he can put together another strong year, it’s worth pointing out Parkey has converted 84.6% of his kicks.
At punter, Gillan brings a huge leg to the position, averaging roughly 44 yards per punt. He has the ability to flip fields and can really boom punts and take advantage of hang time. Long snapper Charley Hughlett is the quiet veteran who is very steady and rarely makes mistakes.
4. CINCINNATI BENGALS
This group could be the one that jumps one or two spots in this ranking next season, depending on the development of two rookies.
The Bengals see kicker Austin Seibert and veteran punter Kevin Huber enter training camp with perceived jobs, but it’s important to note the Bengals invested in rookie kicker Evan McPherson out of Florida and punter Drue Chrisman out of Ohio State in hopes of going with leg talent and youth.
McPherson is famous on tikTok and Instagram for his otherworldly talents as a trick-shot kicker. Though that doesn’t translate to the NFL, his leg talent and accuracy does. He should win the job over Seibert.
As for Chrisman, he has a strong leg and does well with hang time and placement. He should be an easy roster replacement for Huber, who is 35 years old. The Bengals could try and save some money and go with the younger option.
2020 AFC North Specialists rankings:
No. 1 – Baltimore Ravens
No. 2 – Pittsburgh Steelers
No. 3 – Cleveland Browns
No. 4 – Cincinnati Bengals