It’s been anything but a smooth ride for the Bengals’ special teams unit so far in 2018. After back-to-back disastrous performances against the Falcons and Dolphins in Weeks 4 and 5, the problems the unit had were extremely evident. The issues continued to persist against the Chiefs two weeks later and some were wondering if it was a lack of experience or just bad coaching that was causing the problems.
But some of the oldest veterans on the team make up the core of this unit, and they’ve continued to be stalwarts in weekly operations. Only one can be crowned the MVP of the team though.
Clark Harris: Hey, every field goal and punt starts with the snap. As it’s been for the past 10 years, Harris has been flawless as the team’s long snapper. The less you hear about him, the better, but just this one time, recognition is deserved for the oldest player on the team.
Kevin Huber: The Bengals’ long-time punter is on pace just 66 punts this season, which would tie hie career low that he set in 2013. His 270 punt yards against the Steelers in Week 6 were crucial in flipping the field for the Bengals defense, and per usual, his consistency as Randy Bullock’s holder on kicks has been commendable.
Huber has been less busy this season thanks to the offense regressing back to the mean after being a dreadful unit in 2017, but he remains one of the better punters in the league. We’d just like to not see him trot out on the field on fourth-and-short situations past the 50-yard line.
Randy Bullock: Technically, Bullock is nine for 11 on field goals, but one of them was blocked back in Week 5 against the Dolphins. In that same game, he made his second field goal of 50 yards or more in his Bengals career. His lone miss on his 27 extra points came in the midst of the Bengals Week 8 scoring surge against the Buccaneers when the wind was noticeably strong.
Bullock has been about what we expected going into 2018, and when it seemed like every kicker around the league was missing crucial field goals and extra points, the Bengals signed Bullock to a modest two-year extension. The Bengals could do better than Bullock, but his stable accuracy is an asset that is worthy of praise.
Hardy Nickerson: When he’s on the field for the defense, he’s a total liability. Nickerson’s value is realized on special teams, and he’s arguably been their best at defending punts and kickoffs. He’s one of the few with multiple tackles on kickoffs and punts and is fifth on the team in special teams snaps.
Malik Jefferson: Along with Nickerson, Jefferson has also been solid on kickoffs and punt coverage. 109 snaps, two tackles and no penalties is admirable work for a rookie. He may not get a chance to play with the defense, but the Bengals second third-round pick from this year’s draft class has shown to be a capable special teamer.
Special Teams MVP:
Alex Erickson: When Erickson broke out as a rookie in 2016, the Bengals went from deploying the underwhelming Brandon Tate to the leader in kickoff return yards in Erickson. But as easily as he came onto the scene as an undrafted free agent, he didn’t look half as effective in 2017.
Things have flipped again in 2018 for Erickson. After only taking back three kicks in the first three weeks, he’s on pace to top his 27.9 return average from 2016 and is currently sixth in the league in return average with a 28.7 clip. He’s been extremely conservative as a punt returner (10 fair catches to eight returns) but his 9.4 return average there would also be a career high for him.
The most impactful of Erickson’s 13 returns has to be his 47-yard effort right before halftime of the Steelers game in Week 6. Down by seven points, Erickson got the Bengals to midfield with just a minute left in the first half, giving the offense a great opportunity to minimize the deficit before they went into the locker. Five plays later, quarterback Andy Dalton connected with wide receiver Tyler Boyd and the score was tied at 14.
Had Erickson not ripped off that return, the Bengals offense may not have been as aggressive to score, and they don’t have a chance to win late in the game. Obviously it didn’t matter too much in the end, but the impact of a quality return man is huge, and the Bengals have that in Erickson.
Who gets your vote for the 2018 Bengals special teams MVP?
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