The phrase "special teams ace" gets thrown around a lot to define players who can't see the field on offense or defense. They're generally players used in all facets of special teams- both sides of the punting and kickoff games- and are called "core four" players.
A lot of "core four" players are solid special teamers, but they don't stand out. The Patriots have Brandon Bolden, Tavon Wilson, Nate Ebner, Chris White, and Jonathan Casillas as their core four players.
In a potential surprise, Matthew Slater generally only plays three facets, depending on who is returning the kickoffs. Slater handles punts, punt returns, and kickoffs. When there are enough players on the roster, he doesn't participate in kick returns.
Slater was named All Pro for special teams last season, his third distinction in addition to 2011 and 2012, and has made four straight Pro Bowls. He's recognized for his play and ability- and Pro Football Focus (PFF) supports his accolades.
In a recent evaluation of the punting game, Slater was PFF's second highest graded gunner, or player who aligns on the sidelines when the Patriots are punting. His work on punt returns were less celebrated, and his work on kickoffs was slightly above average. His 15 regular season tackles on special teams were second in the league.
Slater actually rated behind Logan Ryan and Malcolm Butler (and linebacker Chris White) in PFF's grading system. Ryan was actually PFF's third ranked special teams player, if you strip out all penalties (Ryan had a questionable offsides on a kickoff late in the Broncos blowout and a block in the back late in the Vikings blowout).
It's because of players like Slater and Ryan that the Patriots special teams game is always one of the best in the league. Over the past three seasons, only the Seattle Seahawks (+6) have had a better starting field differential- average offensive start, less the average defensive start- than the Patriots (+5).
Slater is a team captain who leads the postgame huddles, and one who has the respect of every single person in the Patriots organization.
"Matt does a lot of things for us," Head coach Bill Belichick said about Slater prior to the Packers game last season. "Obviously, he's a really good player on the field; very professional, works hard, does a great job with all the players- younger players, but also his peers. He's very well respected in the locker room, not just by the players, but I'd say by the entire organization, just by the way he goes about his job, how committed he is to the team, how dependable he is, his work ethic, his attitude, his toughness. He's really pretty much a model player.
"I'd love to have 53 guys like him."
While cloning techniques are not yet available, you can be sure that Belichick will always find a way to keep Slater as one of the most effective special teamers in the league.