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17 years of Patriots: Analyzing special teamers under Bill Belichick

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The last part of this series!

Super Bowl X Paxton

Ah, the final part of the series - Coach Belichick’s favorite, the special teamers. We’re going deep, here. Long snapper deep. Wedge buster deep. Let’s do it.

Before we start, though, this is my favorite graphic I found while researching this series - Patriots kickoff return stats in 2010. Just marvel at it.

KICKER

2000 Adam Vinatieri

2001 Adam Vinatieri

2002 Adam Vinatieri

2003 Adam Vinatieri

2004 Adam Vinatieri

2005 Adam Vinatieri

2006 Stephen Gostkowski

2007 Stephen Gostkowski

2008 Stephen Gostkowski

2009 Stephen Gostkowski

2010 Stephen Gostkowski / Shayne Graham

2011 Stephen Gostkowski

2012 Stephen Gostkowski

2013 Stephen Gostkowski

2014 Stephen Gostkowski

2015 Stephen Gostkowski

2016 Stephen Gostkowski

SUMMARY: Only two names here (with the exception of injury fill-in Shayne Graham in 2010). Is it time for the Patriots to say goodbye to Stephen Gostkowski? Perhaps - and if they do end up taking a kicker, I think they spend a 4th or 5th round pick on him. The Patriots are willing to spend for special teamers, and kicking has been an issue the past couple of years.

PUNTER

2000 Lee Johnson

2001 Ken Walter

2002 Ken Walter

2003 Ken Walter

2004 Josh Miller

2005 Josh Miller

2006 Josh Miller/Ken Walter/Todd Sauerbrun

2007 Chris Hanson

2008 Chris Hanson

2009 Chris Hanson

2010 Zoltan Mesko

2011 Zoltan Mesko

2012 Zoltan Mesko

2013 Ryan Allen

2014 Ryan Allen

2015 Ryan Allen

2016 Ryan Allen

SUMMARY: Only one right footed punter is on this list - Todd Sauerbrun. The Patriots love their left-footers, and Allen has been very solid in his short career in New England.

LONG SNAPPER

2000 Lonie Paxton

2001 Lonie Paxton

2002 Lonie Paxton

2003 Lonie Paxton

2004 Lonie Paxton

2005 Lonie Paxton

2006 Lonie Paxton

2007 Lonie Paxton

2008 Lonie Paxton

2009 Jake Ingram

2010 Jake Ingram/Matt Katula

2011 Danny Aiken

2012 Danny Aiken

2013 Danny Aiken

2014 Danny Aiken

2015 Joe Cardona

2016 Joe Cardona

SUMMARY: The Jake Ingram experiment was short-lived, but Joe Cardona has done his job well over the past two years, all while also working at a naval base on off days. Nothing to see here.

KICK RETURNER

2000 Curtis Jackson/JR Redmond

2001 Kevin Faulk/David Patten

2002 Deion Branch/Kevin Faulk

2003 Bethel Johnson/Patrick Pass

2004 Bethel Johnson/Patrick Pass

2005 Bethel Johnson/Ellis Hobbs

2006 Laurence Maroney/Kevin Faulk

2007 Ellis Hobbs/Wes Welker

2008 Ellis Hobbs/Matt Slater

2009 Laurence Maroney/Matt Slater/Julian Edelman

2010 Brandon Tate

2011 Danny Woodhead/Julian Edelman

2012 Devin McCourty

2013 LeGarrette Blount/Josh Boyce

2014 Danny Amendola/Pat Chung

2015 Keshawn Martin/Danny Amendola

2016 Cyrus Jones/Danny Amendola

SUMMARY: Kick returner is honestly the place where the Patriots have had some bad luck in recent years. Since Brandon Tate’s reign, the Patriots have had a bunch of mediocre returners who also fulfill other key roles on the team. Cyrus Jones was picked partially in 2016 to be the team’s de-facto returner, but he has been too fumbly to date.

PUNT RETURNER

2000 Troy Brown

2001 Troy Brown

2002 Troy Brown

2003 Troy Brown

2004 Kevin Faulk

2005 Tim Dwight

2006 Kevin Faulk

2007 Wes Welker

2008 Wes Welker

2009 Wes Welker

2010 Julian Edelman

2011 Julian Edelman

2012 Wes Welker/Julian Edelman

2013 Julian Edelman

2014 Julian Edelman/Danny Amendola

2015 Danny Amendola

2016 Danny Amendola

SUMMARY: Punt returners have been much better for the Patriots over the years, with Troy Brown, Wes Welker, and Julian Edelman being some of the top ones. Jones, again, was supposed to take the reigns in 2016 but the fumbling is still too problematic. This position is wide open. One sleeper name to maybe take this spot is Brandin Cooks - he has some returning experience and he has great vision in the open field. I doubt anyone in Foxboro wants to expose their crown jewel wide receiver to hits in the return game, though.

HOLDER

2000 Lee Johnson

2001 Ken Walter

2002 Ken Walter

2003 Ken Walter

2004 Josh Miller

2005 Josh Miller

2006 Josh Miller

2007 Chris Hanson

2008 Chris Hanson

2009 Chris Hanson

2010 Zoltan Mesko

2011 Zoltan Mesko

2012 Zoltan Mesko

2013 Ryan Allen

2014 Ryan Allen

2015 Ryan Allen

2016 Ryan Allen

SUMMARY: Not much to say here, holders are punters and punters are holders.

GUNNER

2000 Larry Whigham

2001 Leonard Myers

2002 Je’Rod Cherry

2003 Je’Rod Cherry/Chris Akins

2004 Dexter Reid/Je’Rod Cherry

2005 Artrell Hawkins

2006 Willie Andrews

2007 Kelley Washington/Willie Andrews

2008 Sam Aiken

2009 Matt Slater/Kyle Arrington

2010 Matt Slater/Kyle Arrington

2011 Matt Slater/Sergio Brown/Josh Barrett

2012 Matt Slater/Marquice Cole

2013 Matt Slater

2014 Matt Slater/Don Jones

2015 Matt Slater

2016 Matt Slater/Jonathan Jones

SUMMARY: Is Matt Slater a Hall of Famer? Probably not, but he’s one of the best gunners to ever play and he deserves to be enshrined in the Patriots Hall of Fame at some point. Jonathan Jones really stepped up over the course of the season and served as a nice complementary gunner to Slater. He has lots of potential on both defense and special teams. Also, RIP Leonard Myers, who passed away from cancer recently.

WEDGEBUSTER

2000 Patrick Pass

2001 Patrick Pass

2002 Larry Izzo

2003 Larry Izzo

2004 Larry Izzo

2005 Larry Izzo

2006 Larry Izzo

2007 Larry Izzo/Eric Alexander

2008 Eric Alexander

2009 Eric Alexander/Sam Aiken

2010 Sergio Brown

2011 Tracy White/Niko Koutovides

2012 Brandon Bolden

2013 Nate Ebner/Chris White

2014 Nate Ebner

2015 Nate Ebner

2016 Nate Ebner

SUMMARY: When the Patriots took a rugby player in the sixth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, many people laughed. Who’s laughing now, though? Ebner has been a key special teamer for almost half a decade, and his stability has helped anchor New England’s coverage team. One note on Brandon Bolden - Mike Lombardi noted on the Bill Simmons Podcast awhile back that Bolden has a special talent at causing fumbles on special teams. This is a very big reason why he’s still on the team.

North Carolina v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

PROSPECT FITS: The kicker and returner positions could be up for grabs this year. There is another Memphis kicker lurking, but Jake Elliott is small and has questionable leg strength. Outside of Zane Gonzalez and Conrad Ukropina, the two kickers I think people are sleeping on are Younghoe Koo of Georgia Southern and Austin Rehkow of Idaho. Both had 90% field goal percentages last year, can kick 50 yards, and would be potential upgrades over Gostkowski.

Returner-wise, Ryan Switzer may make sense, although I’m not sure the Patriots carry 5 or 6 pure wide receivers. The team is fairly deep at cornerback as well, especially if they are resigned to give Cyrus Jones another chance. TJ Logan of North Carolina, however, has 4.3 speed and could provide some versatility as a running back and kickoff returner. Some other names to keep an eye on include Justin Evans from Texas A&M, Khlafani Muhammad of Cal, and Brandon Wilson of Houston.