Are The Bills Special Teams Better In 2016?


Are the Buffalo Bills special teams better in 2016 than they were in 2015?

The Bills special teams did not have a great season in 2015. Colton Schmidt had a good year, but Dan Carpenter struggled and the return units finished towards the bottom of the league on both punts (23rd) and kickoffs (30th).

The team lost several key players on special teams this offseason in Chris HoganRon Brooks, Boobie Dixon, Percy Harvin, Marcus Thigpen, and Leodis McKelvin. Though most Bills fans are relieved that McKelvin can no longer return punts for the team after some high-profile fumbles in the past.

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They added plenty of talent to make up for that loss including a former Pro Bowler, Lorenzo Alexander, as well as Colt Anderson, Robert Blanton, Jamari Lattimore, and Javier Arenas.

The coverage unit is likely to be a wash. The Bills definitely lost some talented players in that role but as mentioned above, they added plenty of others capable of doing equally as well. In order to answer the original question, we will break the discussion into three parts.

Part One: Kickoff/Field Goal Unit

The Bills have a very unique situation when it comes to their kicking unit. They are one of only eight teams to carry a kickoff specialist since 2006. Jordan Gay seems likely to fill that role again. He does a good job with it, but in my opinion, it’s still a waste of a roster spot when they would be much better served carrying depth at another position.

The other Bills kicker, Dan Carpenter was most talked about for struggling on extra points where he missed six over the course of the season. However, it’s overlooked that he only hit over 85% of his tries last season which was second to last in the league for kickers who averaged at least one try a game per It was also roughly 5% lower than his average his first two seasons with the team.

Carpenter blamed his struggles last year on a hamstring issue he suffered just before training camp according to Chris Brown of We’ll certainly find out this year, but you can’t expect him to miss another six extra points and his field goal percentage should trend up too.

There is a low probability but if rookie kicker Marshall Morgan wins the job he is known to have a powerful foot and could do both kickoffs and field goals. The drawback with Morgan is he has accuracy issues. He also hasn’t proven he can handle the swirling and changing winds inside Ralph Wilson Stadium the way Carpenter has.

Part Two: The Punter

Bills fans pay more attention to their punter than almost any other team in the league. Most likely because for so many years it seemed their offense was incapable of doing anything but going three and out. Brian Moorman would usually have to step in and try to help the team win the field position battle to keep games close.

It’s one of the reasons why I refer to him as Brian “More than a man” Moorman, which usually just angers my friends which makes it even more fun to say. When Moorman hung up his boots, it was very worrisome because as a Bills fans, we understand the importance of what a good punter could do for a team. Luckily for Buffalo, after a two-year stint with Shaun Powell and Moorman punting for the team, in walked Colton Schmidt and the since then he has been terrific.

Schmidt improved last season from his first year in Buffalo. In his first year, his average punt was 42.9 yards which he increased 3.4 yards per punt to 46.3 in his second year. Look for him to continue that trend although it probably won’t jump up another 3.4 yards this season.

Last season, Colton Schmidt had the10th best gross punt average with 46.3 yards. Just 1.6 yards behind league leader Johnny Hekker.  His net punt average was 41.3 yards which was 7th in the league. He also only allowed 3 touchbacks and landed 22 kicks inside the 20-yard line. At only 25 years old, he has the potential to be the Bills starting punter for many years to come.

Part Three: The Kick/Punt Returners

Javier Arenas currently is the favorite for both. He has taken over 100 punts and kickoffs in his career and has tons of experience in each role. His career kickoff return average of 21.1 yards would have placed him 25th in the league last season compared to other team averages. While not good, that is better than the Bills 18.8-yard average which ranked them 30th in the league as a team.

His punt returns are a different story. His punt return average which rounds up to 9.8 yards per carry would have tied him for 10th best in the league along with Denver. Arenas excels on punts over kickoffs because he is very elusive and good in tight spaces. On punts, returners are much more likely to have defenders swarming them as soon as they catch the ball and agility becomes a huge factor in not getting tackled.

Recently signed Reggie Bush could be another option. He would most likely only handle punts and not kickoffs but he will definitely add some talent and depth to the group. The other options include Kolby Listenbee, Mike Gillislee or Marquise Goodwin but none of them have the experience that Arenas or Bush does.

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The conclusion:

In my opinion, ultimately the Bills special teams will be better in 2016 than they were in 2015. Their kicker should be more consistent on extra points, their punter is reliable, their kick returner has better career averages than the Bills put up last season and the coverage unit will be just as good. The Bills special teams was ranked 12th in the league last season by Pro Football Outsiders, but this season they could crack the top 10 in their rankings.