Rating the AFC East -- Special teams

 DAVIE – As a whole, special teams is among the deepest and best units in the AFC East.

 The division has quality punters, led by DolphinsBrandon Fields, quality kickers, led by New England’s Stephen Gostkowski, and one of the NFL’s best special teams players, New England wide receiver Matthew Slater, who has made three consecutive Pro Bowls as the special teams selection.

 With the margin for victory being so narrow in the NFL – the Dolphins, for example, averaged 19.8 points per game last season and allowed 20.9 – special teams can play a huge role in a game’s outcome through either field position, points, blocked kicks or takeaways.

 Kickoff returners have been negated somewhat by the NFL moving the kickoff up five yards to the 35-yard line. There are more touchbacks.

 As a reminder, NFL goalposts will be five feet higher this season. It’s a rule change proposed by the Patriots so referees can better judge whether a field goal sails wide or goes through the uprights.

 As we count the days until the start of training camp on Friday, we’ll rank the Dolphins among their AFC East opponents in 10 categories: QB, OL, WR, TE, RB, DL, LB, DB, Special Teams and coaching.

 Here’s today’s ranking:


 1) Patriots. Gostokowski (38-for-41 in field goals last season), a Pro Bowl selection, led the NFL in field goals made. His 92.7 percent accuracy was tied for 6th-best. Rookie punter Ryan Allen had a decent debut season at 45.9 yards per punt, which ranked 14th in the league. Slater, the son of Hall of Fame offensive lineman Jackie Slater, is an aggressive tackler who has been a three-year special teams captain for the Patriots. Punt returner Julian Edelman (10.7 yards per return, 12th in NFL) is slippery

 2) Dolphins. Fields was second in the league in punting average (48.8 yards) and has been among the NFL’s best punters for the past two years. His ability to get his team out of trouble has been huge. Kicker Caleb Sturgis (26-for-34 on field goals) hit 76.5 percent of his field goals, which ranked 29th in the league. That can’t be overlooked. Coverage units have been strong. Kickoff/punt returner Marcus Thigpen needs to regain his form of two years ago.

 3) Jets. Kicker Nick Folk (33-for-36 on field goals) tied for 10th in field goal percentage at 91.7 percent. He had three game-winning field goals last season. Punter Ryan Quigley averaged 45.5 yards per punt, which was 17th in the league. Losing kickoff returner Josh Cribbs could hurt. Kickoff returner Jacoby Ford is looking to stay healthy and become dangerous as he was years ago. The Jets have a new special teams coordinator, Thomas McGaughey, who take over from Ben Kotwica (one season), who took over from Mike Westhoff, the former Dolphins special teams coordinator.

 4) Bills. Kicker Dan Carpenter (33-for-36 on field goals) had a resurgent season after being released by the Dolphins. Punter Brian Moorman, the 38-year-old signed midway through the season, averaged just 41.2 yards per punt, second-worst in the NFL. That’s a problem. Coverage units are also a problem. CB/punt returner Leodis McKelvin (5.6 yards per return, 23rd in NFL) was disappointing last season.  


QBs: 1. Patriots; 2. Dolphins; 3. Jets; 4. Bills

RBs: 1. Jets; 2. Bills; 3. Dolphins; 4. Patriots

OL: 1. Patriots; 2. Bills; 3. Jets; 4. Dolphins

DL: 1. Dolphins; 2. Jets; 3. Bills; 4. Patriots

DBs: 1. Patriots; 2. Bills; 3. Dolphins; 4. Jets

TEs: 1. Dolphins; 2. Bills; 3. Patriots; 4. Jets

WRs: 1. Dolphins; 2. Bills; 3. Patriots; 4. Jets

LBs: 1. Patriots; 2. Jets; 3. Bills; 4. Dolphins


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