Packers grades: Special teams' performance can't get much worse
Last in a nine-part Packers position-analysis series with 2018 grades.
GREEN BAY - In a year when a lot went wrong for the Green Bay Packers, the special teams units were the model of consistency. Unfortunately for the Packers, they were consistently substandard.
Special teams coordinator Ron Zook was the first out the door of 1265 Lombardi Ave. after the hiring of new head coach Matt LaFleur, and one of only two coaches to be outright fired.
From start to finish, across all units of the special teams, the Packers struggled. If one area executed properly in a game, another faltered. And in many cases, the Packers committed multiple errors in a game. Too often, the third phase hindered the offense and defense throughout the 2018 season.
The three primary specialists remained healthy for all 16 games, though the Packers did sign an emergency punter for the New England game in case JK Scott had to miss it due to the birth of his child. No matter what, the Packers knew who their kicker, punter and long snapper were going to be week in and week out.
The Packers did block a punt and recover it for a touchdown against Minnesota, execute a fake punt against Miami and stopped a fake punt in Chicago. As for the coverage units, undrafted rookies Raven Greene and James Crawford proved valuable and consistent, with the pair being called for just one penalty on special teams. Fadol Brown, who was claimed off waivers from Oakland, proved to be a quick study and a solid addition up front.
Where to begin? Every facet of the specials teams units struggled in 2018. Hall of Fame football writer Rick Gosselin publishes annual rankings of special teams groups and had the Packers dead last in the league. The analytics site www.footballoutsiders.com ranked the Packers 28th. They allowed a kick return for a touchdown, allowed a fake field goal touchdown, allowed fake punts to be converted for first downs, fumbled kick and punt returns (Ty Montgomery's fumbled kick return against the Rams being the most egregious), missed field goals, lined up offside with regularity and always seemed to be flagged for a penalty when something positive did happen.
A dynamic kick returner. It sounds outdated, with the way the league has de-emphasized the kickoff. But with Trevor Davis essentially missing the entire season due to injuries, the Packers employed a rotating group of players who were replacement-level catchers of the ball. There were no dynamic returns. No touchdowns. No momentum changes and flips of field position.
Perhaps the most exciting returner on the team would be cornerback Jaire Alexander on punts, but his role on defense is so important it’s not worth risking him to return punts. Finding a player who can provide depth at receiver or corner, but who is well-versed in returns, should be on the Packers’ to-do list.
Mason Crosby: Five missed kicks in a game will certainly skew percentages, but it did happen to Crosby against Detroit. That said, his 81.1 percent conversion rate on field goals was better than a year ago but was just 24th in the league. His 94.4 percent conversion rate on point-after attempts was No. 18 in the NFL. Missed a potential game-winning field goal in the tie against Minnesota and game-tying field goal against Arizona but did make a game winner against San Francisco. Grade: D+
JK Scott: The fifth-round pick had one punt blocked and finished the year 22nd in average (44.7 yards per punt) and 27th in net average (38.8). He placed only 19 of his 71 punts inside the 20 (26.8 percent). He finished worst in the league in touchbacks with nine. And when teams did return Scott's punts, they averaged 10.3 yards, which was sixth-most in the league. Grade: D+
Hunter Bradley: There were some odd placements at times on field goals, but the ball never failed to reach Scott on place kicks or punts. Committed one penalty (holding) and made one tackle in punt coverage. Grade: C-