Rick Gosselin has been ranking NFL special teams units for the past 41 years, and New Orleans Saints fans will be glad to know that they claimed the top spot in 2019. Darren Rizzi, who helped the Miami Dolphins finish fourth in the NFL last season, was instrumental in improving this area for the Saints.
The Saints finished first in the NFL special-teams rankings compiled annually by Rick Gosselin for the last 41 years. 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. The Saints compiled 256 points to finish 23 ½ points better than the runnerup Cincinnati Bengals.
Per Gosselin's rankings, the Saints finished first in four of the 22 categories, four in the Top 5 in two others, and in the Top 10 in 10 more. He went on to add that the kicking duo of Wil Lutz and Thomas Morstead finished in the Top 10 in the following areas: punting, net punting, inside-the-20 punts, field goals, field goal percentage, and extra point percentage.
Undrafted rookie free agent Deonte Harris, who was named to a Pro Bowl and received various All-Pro team votes in his first season, helped the Saints finish out in the Top 10 for both kickoff and punt returns. The team also led the NFL with four blocked kicks, which all came on punts. J.T. Gray, another unsung hero for the Saints special teams unit, was named as a second-team All-Pro recently. You also mention the coverage and overlook players like Justin Hardee, who have been excellent and are one of the many successes in a long line of undrafted free agents New Orleans has hit on. Taysom Hill, a Jack of all trades, deserves a mention for his work as well.
Prior to the Wild Card game against the Minnesota Vikings, Sean Payton was asked about this being the best special teams unit that he's ever had.
Payton said, "Our return game has been really good and part of that's the returner. I think Darren (Rizzi) and Phil (Galiano) and those guys have done a really good job. I felt like that tide switched for us a little bit, a year and a half ago when Mike (Westhoff) came in and then you add the returner (Deonte Harris) to it. That's been encouraging. There's certain games where that's the difference.
"That's the difference in Seattle to start the game, on the road in a tough environment up 7-0 and not having played an offensive snap. Hopefully we continue that. I know Darren (Rizzi) and those guys have worked hard each week with the specific plan. Our penalties are down now and we're playing a real good special teams unit."
In a season overshadowed by the way it ended, you can't forget about all the good that went into it for the Saints.