Packers Finish 26th in Annual Special Teams Rankings

Bill Huber

Tyler Ervin’s arrival breathed life into the Green Bay Packers’ special teams but it was too little, too late to save the day in Rick Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings.

Under first-year coordinator Shawn Mennenga, the Packers finished 26th in Gosselin’s 41st-annual rankings. The league’s 32 teams are ranked in 22 kicking-game categories and assigned points according to their standing – one for best, 32 for worst. Last year under Ron Zook, the Packers finished last. This marked the fourth time in six years that Green Bay finished in the bottom quartile of the rankings.

New coach Matt LaFleur interviewed several candidates to replace Zook, including Darren Rizzi, before picking Mennenga. Under Rizzi, the Dolphins finished in the Top 10 in special teams in five of his nine seasons, including fourth last year. Ultimately, Rizzi landed in New Orleans. The Saints finished atop Gosselin’s rankings by a wide margin, ranking first in four categories.

The Packers third in field-goal percentage and fourth in penalties but last in punt-return yardage. Their minus-8 return yards through the first 12 games was too much for Ervin to save, even though he averaged 9.6 yards on 10 runbacks.

In my five-category special teams rankings, the Packers finished 18th. They moved up eight spots during the final five weeks of the season, thanks to Ervin and excellent kickoff coverage. The biggest issue for next season will be the punting unit. After a hot start, JK Scott wound up finishing 24th in net punting with a 39.9-yard average. His shanked punt against the 49ers gift-wrapped a touchdown.

“I think just our guys growing within the system,” Mennenga said late in the season. “There’s been some consistency with our personnel. There’s been a few injuries here and there but it was a revolving door at the beginning of the season and now we’ve had some guys settle into roles and they’ve learned what we’re trying to do and what we’re teaching them to do. In the return game, Tyler’s been really important. We’re blocking better for him but he’s definitely a threat back there and has done a really good job back there for us. It’s young guys growing and getting better and, obviously, he’s definitely a threat back there in the return game.”