Special Teams For Detroit In 2017 Had Its Highs And Lows.
With the main two positions on special teams getting new contracts in 2016 and 2017, Detroit has planned on having these two guys around for a while. Punter Sam Martin signed a four-year deal worth $13.6 million in 2016 and kicker Matt Prater signed a three-year deal worth $11.4 million in 2017. While both have deserved the money, their 2017 showcasing of what they are worth seemed to take a small hit.
While the hit was mostly on Martin, Prater had some miscues on things that he shouldn’t be having miscues with. Overall though, the special teams unit did well in 2017 with help from everyone, not just a player or two.
Special Teams Fiasco At Punter
The start to 2017 was rough for Martin, he would get injured by a conch shell while on vacation, sidelining him for all of the preseason and the first six weeks of the regular season. Martin’s injury was kept hidden from the public until November, and that left a bad taste in the mouth of fans.
So while Martin was out, the Lions found punter Kasey Redfern and he was a diamond in the rough for them. He impressed the team during the preseason, punting 23 times for 1,047 yards, getting seven of them to land inside the 20 and only having one touchback. Sadly, his season would be cut very short as during the first game against the Arizona Cardinals as Redfern would botch a snap, and while running for yardage, he would tear his ACL and MCL in his kicking leg, meaning Detroit was back to square one.
Detroit tried out a few punters and ended up with Jeff Locke as the replacement for Redfern. Locke would do well with his duty, punting 27 times for 1,222 yards, 11 ending inside the 20-yard line and zero touchbacks.
Once Martin healed, Locke was released after doing a great job and Martin finished out the season punting 41 times for 1,779 yards, with 13 ending inside the 20-yard line and six touchbacks. Martin seemed off in his return, and if he can avoid a conch shell, his 2018 should put him back to where he was in 2016.
Matt Prater Continues To Be Worth The Money
Since legendary kicker Jason Hanson retired, Detroit struggled to find another long-term replacement and they are glad that search is over. What makes them even happier is that Prater wants to continue playing for the Lions. Signing that extension showed Prater wants to be here for a while, possibly the rest of his playing career.
Now technically speaking, 2017 was his worst season in Detroit. In 2014 he was with Detroit and Denver, so you can’t count that as a full year of experience, but Prater did have his lowest field goal completion percentage in 2017, falling to 85.7 percent after finishing 30/35. While he made everything under 40 yards, his deep ball is where he had some issues. Prater was 7/8 on field goals from 40/49 yards out but was 7/11 from 50+ yards.
Now that isn’t horrible; Prater even had a streak of 12 straight 50+ yard field goals made, tying the record before missing the 13th. His streak of seven straight 55+ yard field goals also snapped on that one miss, but again he holds the record for the longest streak in 55+ yard field goals made.
Since 2015, the NFL moved back the extra point to make it more challenging, and Prater still has issues with it, missing three in 2015, two in 2016 and one last year. Those are easy points and while he has decreased his misses, those shouldn’t be an issue for Prater if he can make seven straight 55+ yard field goals, there can’t be an excuse for those misses.
Jamal Agnew And Don Muhlbach Keep It Simple
As I talked about in my defensive back review article, Agnew blew up the punt return game his rookie season. He would become an All-Pro and finish with 11 kick returns for 196 yards and 29 punt returns for 447 yards and two touchdowns.
While Agnew got all the praise, the man who doesn’t get any recognition, long snapper Don Muhlbach had another great season. There were never any bad snaps that were caused by Muhlbach, only bad holds by Redfern or Martin. Muhlbach will continue to be one of the best long snappers in the NFL in 2018.
Overall, the Lions special teams is a good unit. They don’t have to worry about snaps being too low or high, and a good majority of field goals are going in and their return game can be something special.
The only issue is punting and Martin will be able to rebound after a rough 2017, as long as he stays away from the beach. This unit overall is the best on the team. While that is easy to say with only four positions being the unit, all four of them are solid and have helped this team win some close games.