While teams tend to address their offensive and defensive needs in the NFL Draft, the Las Vegas Raiders overlooked mostly during the Draft: special teams.
Last season, the Raiders ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in many special teams categories, including punt return yards allowed (30th). However, a ranking this low can be situational. The Raiders had a disappointing amount of short drives leading to long punts. A long punt, instead of a pooch or target kick typically aimed at the sidelines or one-yard line, can allow the returning team space for a decent return. While this can be dependent on the offense to get the team down the field, it can also depend on the time it takes the team’s gunners to get down the field.
Allowing lengthy punt returns can make an offense’s drive significantly easier and put additional pressure on the team’s defense. While the first gunner down the field is can miss his tackle, he holds the very important task of making the returner pick a direction. Last season, there appeared to be a bit of a disconnect. The first gunner would miss his tackle, sending the returner in a certain direction. On the other hand, the second gunner down rarely made the tackle, allowing extra return yards. Perhaps it is a communication issue, but a change must be made. While shutting down a return man gets proportionately more difficult as punt distance increases, the Raiders appear to struggle.
On the plus side, the Raiders ranked third overall in field goal percentage in 2019. That stat remains dependent on field position and kicker skill. While the Raiders find themselves in third in field goal percentage, the team ranked 27th in field goals attempted. This skewed their percentage stat in a positive, yet slightly deceptive direction.
All in all, this comes down to field position and may not be reflected by the team’s special teams unit. “Special teams” is a great name for the third aspect of the NFL It can be quite difficult to truly evaluate a team’s special teams corps without taking their other teams into consideration. But, in an attempt to do exactly that, we can see the Raiders’ special teams unit is fairly subpar.
As fans have seen the Raiders bolster both their offensive and defensive rosters, special teams could make or break the team’s playoff hopes. For example, the Kansas City Chiefs owned the best special teams unit last season. Plus, a majority of last year’s playoff teams find themselves in the top half of the rankings. Meanwhile, the Raiders ranked tied for 30th.
It must be mentioned that the Cincinnati Bengals boasted the second-best special teams unit. As a result, special teams success might not be directly related to team success. Yet, it can certainly help.