As is tradition. Sports Illustrated’s Rick Gosselin released his yearly special teams rankings, showing some love to football’s forgotten phase. Each year, he complies the best (and worst) special teams units with a statistical review of numerous categories, everything from field goals to blocks to net average.
The Pittsburgh Steelers and Danny Smith’s unit finished a tick below average in the 2021 rankings, coming in at 17th place with 364.5 points (his scoring is like golf, lower is better). Unfortunately, there is no team-by-team analysis, but his review noted the Steelers benefitted from having the second best (lowest) opponent net punting at just 38 yards. The Steelers tied for the second most field goals and tied for the third most blocked kicks.
Here’s how the Steelers have ranked dating back to 2015.
2021 – 17th
2020 – 18th
2019 – 9th
2018 – 25th
2017 – 17th
2016 – 20th
2015 – 6th
Consider 2021’s ranking squarely average. Only twice over the last seven years has Smith’s unit finished in the top ten and he’s never cracked the top five.
Like most years, the Steelers’ special teams were a mixed bag. Chris Boswell continued to prove he’s among the best kickers in the game. He’s simply overshadowed by having one of the greatest kickers in NFL history in the same division. Punting was a different story with rookie Pressley Harvin struggling for most of the season, producing a poor average while the team’s net average was also among the lowest in the league.
The kick coverage team got off to an ugly start with a long return on the first play of the season against Buffalo, but had no major errors after that. The return teams were decent to good, an average kick return game (15th) and slightly above punt return game (11th) while generating two Miles Killebrew punt blocks, helping them to beat the Bills in Week 1.
Overall, the team wasn’t penalized an egregious amount of the time, seemingly falling somewhere in the middle, not cracking the top or bottom five according to Gosselin’s numbers.
While some fans have griped about Smith’s units, he’s poised to return as the team’s special teams coordinator in 2022. One of the longest tenured special teams coaches in football, he’s been coaching in the NFL since 1995 and was hired by Tomlin in 2013.