The Bengals have annually had one of the NFL’s best special teams units under Marvin Lewis, and 2016 was no different.
The often forgotten third aspect of football was a strength of Cincinnati in 2016, highlighted by Alex Erickson becoming one of the best returners as a rookie. He was recently honored by Pro Football Focus as one of the top kickoff returners in 2016 on their list of the best special teams players in the NFL this season.
But as good as Erickson was, he didn’t make those big returns happen all on his own. He was set up by some great blocking by guys like Ryan Hewitt and Cedric Peerman, who have also been honored by PFF as two of the top kickoff return blockers this season.
Return blocker: Cedric Peerman, Cincinnati Bengals
Stat to know: Saw 22 snaps as a lead blocker on kick returns from Week 12 onward.
Return blocker: Ryan Hewitt, Cincinnati Bengals
Stat to know: Played 54 snaps as part of the Bengals’ back wall.
It’s hard to consistently notice good blocking on special teams, but Peerman has been great at that for much of his career in stripes, so seeing him on this list is no surprise. Even playing in less than half of the season, Peerman was still one of the better blockers on kickoff returns, and he helped Erickson knock off several of his big returns during the final six games.
This is also why we should expect the Bengals to re-sign Peerman this offseason. Even though the impending free agent offers nothing as a running back, his impact on special teams is good enough to warrant him being back as the fourth-string back.
As for Hewitt, the Bengals extended him last offseason, in part because they think he’s one of the NFL’s better fullback/h-backs. However, it’s clear his special teams impact also makes him more valuable to this team than many people realize.
Speaking of role players who do most of their damage on special teams, that’s the best way to describe Margus Hunt’s 2016 season. A career backup defensive lineman who rarely saw the field on defense, Hunt finally made a big impact this past season, though it actually came on special teams as a kick blocker.
That’s the role for which PFF honored Hunt as the NFL’s best field goal blocker.
On the defensive side, blocking and getting pressure is rare, so we’ve instead opted to highlight the best player at blocking field goals and extra points, which this year was Cincinnati Bengals’ Margus Hunt, who finished the year with three blocked kicks.
Field goal blocker: Margus Hunt, Cincinnati Bengals
Stat to know: Blocked three field goals or extra points in 2016.
Just like Peerman, Hunt’s impact on special teams could help him earn a new contract with the Bengals this offseason, though Hunt should actually have more of a market for his services.
Hunt won’t give the Bengals much on defense other than being a rotational lineman to give other guys some rest, but his ability to block kicks at a decent rate does give him value to this team.