For as many problems the Bengals’ special teams went through during the middle of the season, a weighted DVOA ranking of 5th by season’s end signified a job well done by special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons’ unit.
Simmons was the most experienced assistant coach retained by the team this offseason with Zac Taylor taking over as head coach, and Taylor will be relying on him to sustain that level of production in 2019. Here’s how his unit stacks up entering the heart of the offseason.
- Randy Bullock
- Kevin Huber
- Clark Harris
- Clayton Fejedelem
- Alex Erickson
2019 potential free agents:
- Tony McRae (ERFA)
- Brandon Wilson (ERFA)
Despite receiving an extension in the middle of the season, Randy Bullock dealt with some struggles last year. To make things worse, he seemed to miss kicks at the worst possible times. He was 2/5 on 50+ yard field goal attempts and was a mediocre 19/23 on the season.
Kevin Huber also inked a new deal with the team last year and had a decent year punting. His long snapper Clark Harris followed up a Pro Bowl 2017 season with a reliable performance in 2018.
Kick returner Alex Erickson did a very good job this season. He kept the ball secure and generally set up the Bengals nicely. His consistency in that role kept rookie Darius Phillips at bay from taking any returns himself.
The Bengals love to tell us about how good fellow receiver Cody Core is on special teams, but he didn’t do anything to stand out. McRae blocked not one, but two field goals against the Falcons. Unfortunately, he was called offside on both locks.
Fejedelem has been an excellent special teams player, but was responsible for one of the most infamous plays last season. In a game against the Chiefs in which the Bengals could not afford a mistake, Fejedelem reached out for a snap on a fake punt and dropped the ball, giving the Chiefs great field position. His work on kickoff and punt teams was exceptional besides that one mistake, and Wilson also proved he has value in that role.
2019 Outlook and Need
Bullock is a journeyman kicker for a reason: he is unreliable from long range. Most Bengals fans are still angry that the team let Jake Elliott slip away, and for good reason. It would be great to see the team look for a young talented kicker who can make clutch kicks from a distance. Conversely, Huber and Harris give the team a solid punter and long snapper.
Erickson is a very talented return man, but it would be great to see Phillips get another chance in his second season. He was an absolute stud as a returner in college, as he returned 5 kickoffs and 1 punt for touchdowns in his time at Western Michigan.
Players like Fejedelem, McRae and Wilson are very good role players on special teams, and the team should re-invest in McRae and Wilson this offseason. An extension for Fejedelem could also be in the cards as well. The Bengals will need to add more players like them in the middle and late rounds of the draft to maintain appropriate depth and competition in training camp.
On the other hand, Core is a liability as a wide receiver who the team should look to move on from this season. Thankfully, replacing his production as a special teamer won’t be too difficult. Adding to the linebacker position will also be a huge part of this.
The Bengals have very little depth at that position, and they traditionally look for early special teams contributions from them.