Ranking the 10 best special teams in the NFL in 2023

It’s important for fans to remember that there are three phases in football, which is why we wanted to explore the NFL’s best special teams in 2023.

Offense and defense are important, but special teams plays a key role too. The top special teams in the NFL will inevitably play a key role in determining what teams are legitimate championship contenders. 

Ranking the 10 best Special Teams in 2023

Much like penalties in football, the strength of a team’s special teams unit gets overlooked when evaluating teams. In a way, a special teams unit transcends all other football positions, creating new positions with different skill sets.

But what are the best NFL special teams currently? We took a closer look at the third phase of the game so we could rank the NFL’s best special teams in 2023.

10. Texans

The Texans may not be a contender, but they figure to have one of the NFL’s best special teams in 2023. Ka’imi Fairbairn had an overlooked 2022 season and was one of the best kickers statistically in the league last season.

Likewise, punter Cameron Johnston was easy to overlook on a losing team last season but makes Houston sound at that position. Plus, the Texans have high hopes for rookie Tank Dell, who is small but shifty and might be able to provide a spark in the return game.

9. Seahawks

Seattle was one of the top special teams in the NFL last season, helping the Seahawks in their surprising playoff journey. Placekicker Jason Myers is among the most underrated in the league while Michael Dickson is a reliable punter.

Once again DeeJay Dallas will handle both punt and kick returns and should provide a spark in that area, even if the Seahawks don’t need him as a running back. Plus, the Seahawks are deep defensively with veterans like Julian Love and Devin Bush set to be backups, which should make their coverage units strong.

8. Chargers

After coming to the Chargers, Cameron Dicker proved to be one of the most accurate kickers in the NFL, even if he’s not the best long-range threat. The Chargers also found success with JK Scott as their punter last season.

Those two should be solid if unspectacular for Los Angeles in 2023. In the return game, the Chargers will rely on rookie Derius Davis to handle both punt and kick returns. While there is some inherent risk with that, Davis has unquestioned speed and was Special Teams Player of the Year in the Big 12 last season for TCU, so he does come with a lot of promise.

7. Patriots

Few coaches pay attention to special teams as closely as Bill Belichick does, which is why the Patriots always have one of the best special teams units in the NFL. Belichick always makes sure that his backups can play on coverage teams and get the job done.

Meanwhile, the Patriots have one of the best return men in the game in Marcus Jones. As a rookie last year, Jones led the league in punt return yards and earned First-Team All-Pro honors as a returner. He will give New England a huge advantage on special teams.

However, there are questions in the kicking game with New England drafting placekicker Chad Ryland and punter Bryce Baringer this year. The two rookies will compete with Nick Folk and Corliss Waitman, respectively. Of course, it’s hard to doubt Belichick’s eye for special teams talent, which is why nobody should be surprised if the Pats find two reliable players with Ryland and Baringer.

6. Jaguars

The Jaguars should feel much better about their special teams with Brandon McManus added during the offseason. While he’s coming off the worst season of his career since his rookie year, McManus is a proven commodity who’s capable of bouncing back.

Jacksonville also has Logan Cooke, who has been one of the most consistent punters in the league over the last handful of years. Of course, Jamal Agnew was a Pro Bowl replacement as a kick returner last season and was a spark in the playoffs last season despite a costly fumble. The Jaguars also have Christian Kirk and JaMycal Hasty on their roster, so they are quite deep in the return game.

5. Falcons

Even with some unknowns on their roster, the Falcons know they have two standout special teams players in placekicker Younghoe Koo and kick returner Cordarrelle Patterson. Koo is close to automatic inside 50 yards, so if the Atlanta offense can get to the 35-yard line, they should get points out of a drive.

Meanwhile, Patterson has nine career kickoff returns for a touchdown. Punter Bradley Pinion is solid while the punt return position looks unsettled into the season. But with Koo and Patterson, the star power on Atlanta’s special teams is hard to match.

4. Raiders

With the way Daniel Carlson kicked the ball last season, Las Vegas should have an excellent special teams unit in 2023. Carlson was one of the top place-kickers last season while punter AJ Cole also had a strong season. He was top five in net punting distance, largely because he prevents teams from returning punts in the first place.

That’s an underrated part of a strong special teams unit. It’s in the return game where the Raiders have some uncertainty. Las Vegas signed DeAndre Carter away from the Chargers to be the team’s punt returner. The Raiders will also roll the dice with rookie Tre Tucker on kick returns after using a third-round pick on the wide receiver from Cincinnati.

3. 49ers

The 49ers took a little bit of a risk by drafting kicker Jake Moody in the third round of this year’s draft. Not every team with championship aspirations relies on a rookie kicker. But they know what they’re getting from punter Mitch Wishnowsky. Also, Ray-Ray McCloud is coming off a career-year as the team’s punt and kick return and is one of the most dynamic return men in the league.

Rookie Ronnie Bell also gives them another option in the return game. While the 49ers aren’t a sure thing, if Moody works out, San Francisco should have one of the best special teams in 2023.

2. Colts

There aren’t high expectations for the Colts in 2023, although they should be solid on special teams. Indy made a bold move in free agency by signing Matt Gay away from the Rams. The Colts also brought in Isaiah McKenzie to give their return game a boost. While McKenzie has had an up-and-down career as a wide receiver, he’s always a threat in the return game.

Plus, Dallis Flowers averaged over 31 yards per return on kickoffs as a rookie in 2022. Rookie Josh Downs could also factor into the return game, giving the Colts plenty of depth there. The only question is if punter Rigoberto Sanchez can bounce back from last year’s torn Achilles and get back to being one of the top punters in the NFL.

1. Ravens

With Justin Tucker as their placekicker, the Ravens have a huge edge over the rest of the league in terms of their special teams. Late in games when a field goal can tie or win the game, any kick within 60 yards will make Baltimore feel confident about converting. That’s not something that every team can say.

The Ravens also saw punter Jordan Stout have a fine rookie season in 2022. With plenty of room for improvement, he could be among the league’s top punters in 2023. Finally, Devin Duvernay gives them a return threat on both punts and kickoffs. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown last season and averaged nearly 12 yards per punt return, giving Baltimore a spark on special teams. 

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