Lions Positional Analysis: The Specialists

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Let’s be honest, if you’re a fan of mainstream sports its no secret that this time of year sucks. For those of us that don’t care about European soccer, game 956 on the MLB’s 2500 game schedule, or which obscure athlete is going to totally nail the pole vault in Rio before inevitably contracting some debilitating disease, suggesting these months are slow is an understatement. If you’re anything like me you’ve been clinging to NHL/NBA free agency and draft news trying to hang on until the Hall of Fame game on August 7th, and considering taking up canoeing because it looks like a great upper body workout. That type of wall-climbing spawned the idea that I’m quickly realizing might be a lot more work then I originally considered. In this 11 part series I, along with Brandon Knapp, will be profiling each position group on the Lions roster (2 groups a week, with 3 in the last week for those of you who like to schedule) carrying you through until the Lions first preseason game on August 12th against the Steelers. These articles should give you a basic idea of what to expect, project stats, guess at who’s making the final roster, and basically provide a quick look forward to avoid the boredom when you’ve exhausted all of the good stuff on Netflix. Trust me, this is as much an exercise to save me from the dregs of summer as it is you. So without further ado, lets begin…. with The Specialists!

Matt Prater is a lock for his role with the specialists

If you wanted to critique Matt Prater you could talk about how he missed 3 extra points last year. I guess you could mention that he attempted the third least amount  of field goals in the league as well (24) and missed two (one he should have had and one from 55 yards). At the end of the day though, he’s one of the best place kickers in the league so there’s not a whole lot to complain about. Prater finished 2015 5th in field goal percentage (91.7%), and had the second longest kick of the season at an absurd 59 yards. He’s really good and after the hell we went through during the Nate Freese fiasco it’s just nice to be able to trust your kicker again. You can see by the stats that his numbers were heavily impacted by the past offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s stagnant offense, averaging one attempt per game in the first seven games which improved to almost two attempts per game under Cooter in the last nine. Expect him to keep on his steady trend but without the slow start this year.

2016 projection: 30/33, FG%: 90.0%, 2 missed EXP

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Devon Bell is the camp body you need

I’m going to be perfectly honest here. I didn’t really notice that this guy had been signed until I sat down to write this article. Basically, the Lions decided to swap out an irrelevant punter who was never going to be signed by the team with an irrelevant kicker to compete with Prater and who will never be signed by the team. I mean outside of that, he went to Mississippi State for you SEC fans… he’s about average height and weight… I skimmed his twitter and saw he just got engaged, that’s fun. Most importantly though I found out he both kicked and punted at the NCAA level, so now late in those meaningless preseason games we can sit both Prater and Martin on the bench where they will be safe from any potential of injury and give this guy the chance to showcase his stuff. Just maybe he will get a shot somewhere else in the league. Best of luck going forward to Devon in his career, and best wishes to the future Mrs. Bell for many years of happy marriage.  Barring injury, he won’t be one of the long-term specialists on this team.

2016 projection: Cut

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Sam Martin, one of the best punters in the league

Martin to be fair had a slightly down year stat wise in comparison to the 2014 campaign. As was said in my comments on Prater though, to nit-pick about that would be a poor use of time. He finished 2015 6th in net punting average, and allowed the 6th lowest average return yards. Also, like Prater, he didn’t get a ton of help in the first seven games from a stagnant offense giving him few opportunities to pin teams deep, but showed a significant improvement in numbers after the rise of Jim-Bob Cooter. He has an extremely powerful leg that can help dig an offense out of a hole after a bad drive, and his career has been a highlight reel accuracy wise (if you would ever consider putting a punter in your highlight reel), consistently dropping balls deep in enemy territory. I’ve seen some fans attempt to neglect this information and put a lot of emphasis on one particularly rough play from the 2014 playoff game vs. Dallas, or some trouble he had against the Bengals, however I’m inclined to think those fans are focused on something of an anomaly in his play. He’s one of the best players at his position in the league and should be a fixture of the team for another decade plus pending a new contract next offseason.

2016 projection: He’s going to punt the ball a bunch of times and be really good at it. I’m not even going to attempt to suggest I can predict punting statistics.

Don Muhlbach and Jimmy Landes will be interesting to watch

Ladies and gentlemen, get ready for potentially the single most interesting long snapper competition in NFL history. I would love for someone to actually find me a more interesting battle at this position out of pure curiosity. To be fair, when has the long snapping position ever been interesting outside of YouTube trick shot videos or when something goes horribly wrong?

Coming out of the red corner is not only the oldest of the specialists presently on the Lion’s roster, but the longest-serving player on the roster at 12 seasons. Number 48 in your programs and number 1 in your hearts, the beloved Don Muhlbach. The last player remaining from the 0-16 Lions team. Don has served admirably during his tenure, going mostly unnoticed as a stalwart amongst the specialists that has made extremely consistent snaps for a long period of time. He also seems like a really nice guy. I don’t think you could give a long snapper a better compliment than that.

Coming out of the blue corner, the young gun, a trick-shot snapping wizard out of Baylor, Jimmy Landes. He also consistently snaps balls long distances with great accuracy and seems to be relatively athletic, as he was a two-sport athlete – spending time on the baseball team. The most important point is that he is only the third player to officially be drafted as a long snapper in the last decade. While new GM Bob Quinn has been focused on providing competition at literally every position, and only spent a sixth round compensatory pick to bring Jimmy Landes to the organization, you don’t spend a pick on one of the specialist positions without fully intending to keep them around.

With that, I believe I might have provided the most in-depth analysis of long snapping written about the Lions in my lifetime.

2016 projection: Landes makes the final roster, Muhlbach cut, footballs will be snapped.

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Final specialists depth chart:

  • K – Matt Prater
  • P – Sam Martin
  • LS – Jimmy Landes

I hope you enjoyed this article. Tune in next time as Brandon takes his turn and brings you our first look at the Lions defense for the 2016 season. As usual please leave your thoughts in the subreddit (you can find me on there at gridiron009) and don’t forget to follow me on twitter @adam_ostermeier.

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About the Author

Chris is the founder of everything you see here. A former radio presenter and Detroit native, he now resides in sunny California – and like so many of us, he found himself marooned on an island devoid of other Lions fans. After spending a few years in the Detroit Lions Reddit community he decided to start the Detroit Lions Podcast. Its become the #1 Detroit Lions podcast, and regularly ranks with the top podcasts in Detroit. With a mixture of pre-recorded shows, live & recorded phone-ins, and live post-game broadcasts - this is his slice of Honolulu Blue heaven.