The New England Patriots had a down year with regards to the special teams. Often regarded as one of the best in the league, the unit cost the Patriots on multiple occasions throughout the year. There were muffed punts, blocked punts, returns allowed, and key missed kicks that sank the ship.
Kicker Stephen Gostkowski was named First Team All Pro, but he missed a crucial extra point against the Denver Broncos that really came back to haunt the team down the final stretch. Punter Ryan Allen was great in his third season as the team's punter, but he's a middle of the road player as far as the league is concerned. Rookie long snapper Joe Cardona was a marked improvement over his predecessor Danny Aiken.
The following players were key special teamers:
75+% of special teams snaps: Nate Ebner (75.3%)
50-75%: Matthew Slater (63.9%), Brandon King (54.5%), Brandon Bolden (53.7%), Jordan Richards (51.6%), Jonathan Freeny (50.8%)
25-50%: Patrick Chung (48.2%), Jonathan Bostic (39.6%), Stephen Gostkowski (38.6%), Duron Harmon (34.7%), Michael Williams (33.5%), Ryan Allen (33.5%), Tavon Wilson (31.6%), Devin McCourty (31.4%), Chandler Jones (29.4%), Joe Cardona (29.4%), Geneo Grissom (29.0%)
The core special teams players are pretty evident as Ebner, Slater, King, Bolden, Richards, Freeny, and Chung.
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The Patriots are all set at the skill positions for the next three seasons, and it's unlikely that the team will really feel too compelled to bring in anything more than a camp body during the offseason to prevent these players from wearing down.
Of the core special teams players, Ebner (unrestricted) and King (exclusive rights) are free agents, while Slater (2017), Bolden (2017), Freeny (2017), Chung (2018), and Richards (2019) remain under contract. The whole unit should return next season and will hopefully perform at a higher level.