As an in-depth and extremely avid football fan, I take all three phases of the VERY seriously. Here are some choices of Hall of Fame special teams players that I think should at least, AT LEAST garner some hall of fame consideration in years to come. Let’s get it started.
10.) Andy Lee, P. San Francisco 49ers (2004-2014), Cleveland Browns (2015), Carolina Panthers (2016), Arizona Cardinals (2017)
Career stats: 217 games played. 1,135 punts, 52,666 yards, 46.4 ypp., 107 (TB), 372 (punts inside 20), 4 blocked punts, 39.6 net avg., 82 (long)
Andy Lee was drafted in the 6th round (No. 188 overall) by the San Francisco 49ers in the 2004 NFL draft. His impressive accuracy and overall hang-time are what make him a truly special punter.
Not to mention, he is 8th all-time in punts inside the 20 and hits them at a rate of 32.8% of the time.
9.) Sebastian Janikowski, K. Oakland Raiders (2000-present)
Career stats: 268 games played. 414/515 field goals, 80.4%, 63 (long), 557/563 PAT’s, 98.9%, 1,799 points scored
The No. 17 overall pick in the 2000 NFL Draft by way of Florida State has come an extremely long way from missing 10 field goals his rookie year to become of the most revolutionary special teams talents the game has ever witnessed.
With an absolute cannon for a left leg, the 260 lb. place kicker still to this day has one of the top 5 strongest legs in the league and is absolutely deadly from outside of 50 yards, having hit the most 50+ yard field goals in NFL history (55).
8.) Mel Gray, KR/PR/RB/WR. New Orleans Saints (1986-1988), Detroit Lions (1989-1994), Houston Oilers (1995-1996), Tennessee Titans (1997), Philadelphia Eagles (1997)
Career stats: 169 games played. 421 kick returns, 10,250 yards, 24.3 ypr., 6 TD’s, 102 (long) / 252 punt returns, 2,753 yards, 10.9 ypr., 3 TD’s, 80 (long)
He is the Detroit Lions all-time leader in kickoff returns (216), kickoff return yards (5,478), kickoff return touchdowns (5), most kickoff return touchdowns in a season (3 in 1994), highest kickoff return average in a season (28.4, also in 1994) and punt return yards (1,427).
The diminutive special teams ace Gray was also a four-time Pro Bowl selection (1990-92, 1994) with the Detroit Lions.
7.) Shane Lechler, P. Oakland Raiders (2000-2012), Houston Texans (2013-present)
Career stats: 286 games played. 1,444 punts, 68,678 yards, 47.6 ypp., 178 TB, 469 (punts inside 20), 5 blocked punts, 39.1 net avg., 80 (long)
2nd all-time in the NFL behind Jeff Feagles in punts nailed inside the 20, Shane Lechler was just one half of the dynamic duo that was possibly the best kicker/punter duo in the history of the NFL (Sebastian Janikowski being that kicker).
With raw power and extreme accuracy, Shane Lechler may be the next greatest punter to ever play behind fellow long-time Oakland Raider Ray Guy. He has been yet another revolutionary special teams player and brought some much needed light to the art of punting.
6.) Rick Upchurch, KR/PR/WR. Denver Broncos (1975-1983)
Career stats: 119 games played. 248 punt returns, 3,008 yards, 12.1 ypr., 8 TD’s, 92 (long) / 95 kick returns, 2,355 yards, 24.8 ypr., 64 (long)
During the 1970’s and the early 1980’s, Rick Upchurch was the best punt returner and special teams player in the NFL. Without debate.
His sophomore season would be his best season was in 1976. He had 39 punt returns for 536 yards, a 13.7 yard average and scored 4 touchdowns on his way to a Pro Bowl selection. He tied the single season and career punt return touchdown marks record when he called it quits.
5.) Josh Cribbs, KR/PR/WR. Cleveland Browns (2005-2012), New York Jets (2013), Indianapolis Colts (2014)
Career stats: 136 games played. 426 kick returns, 11,113 yards, 26.1 ypr., 8 TD’s, 103 (long) / 222 punt returns, 2,375 yards, 10.7 ypr., 3 TD’s, 80 (long)
Josh Cribbs made the start of his NFL journey as an undrafted rookie from Kent State. He was signed to the Cleveland Browns in August 2005 and went on to rewrite franchise special teams record history.
He holds 11 team return records, and is tied for first in the NFL in kickoff return touchdowns. His 13,488 total return yards are tied for third in the NFL.
He’s third in the NFL in kickoff return yards and fifth in return TD’s. After eight years in Cleveland, he finished his career with the New York Jets and the Indianapolis Colts.
4.) Dante’ Hall, KR/PR/WR. Kansas City Chiefs (2000-2006), St. Louis Rams (2007-2008)
Career stats: 112 games played. 426 kick returns, 10,136 yards, 23.8 ypr., 6 TD’s, 100 (long) / 216 punt returns, 2,261 yards, 10.5 ypr., 6 TD’s, 93 (long)
Dante’ Hall lit up the NFL in 2002. The human joystick accounted for 2,120 all-purpose yards and three total return touchdowns (2 punt returns), including a 93-yard walk off punt return against the Denver Broncos.
He also managed a return touchdown in 6 consecutive seasons from 2002 to 2007 in his 1st year as a member of the then St. Louis Rams. The 5’8″ speedster from Texas A&M was a special teams dynamite.
3.) Brian Mitchell, KR/PR/RB. Washington Redskins (1990-1999), Philadelphia Eagles (2000-2002), New York Giants (2003)
Career stats: 223 games played. 607 kick returns, 14,014 yards, 23.1 ypr., 4 TD’s, 100 (long) / 463 punt returns, 4,999 yards, 10.8 ypr., 9 TD’s, 84 (long)
The NFL’s reigning leader in punt return yardage did it the best and did it over the longest period. Brian Mitchell has something that a lot of special teams players don’t have and that is the ability to be consistent.
In 14 seasons in the league, he managed at least one return touchdown in 9 of those seasons. His last return touchdown came as a member of the Philadelphia Eagles on November 25, 2002. It was a 76-yard punt return and he did it at the age of 34.
2.) Adam Vinatieri, K. New England Patriots (1996-2005), Indianapolis Colts (2006-present)
Career stats: 337 games played. 559/663 field goals, 84.3%, 57 (long), 808/823 PAT’s, 98.2%, 2,487 points scored
Currently in 2nd place for points scored all-time behind current Hall of Fame kicker Morten Anderson, Adam Vinatieri has been one of the most clutch special teams players the game has ever seen.
Along with icing Super Bowl wins for the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, he has managed to score over 1,000 points for both franchises during his time there.
At 45, Vinatieri continues to bang ’em through the goalposts in outstanding fashion. As evident with the 43-yard extra point that he somehow managed to swirl through the sticks during a blizzard in a matchup vs. the Bills in December.
1.) Devin Hester, KR/PR/WR. Chicago Bears (2006-2013), Atlanta Falcons (2014-2015), Seattle Seahawks (2016), Baltimore Ravens (2016)
Career stats: 156 games played. 315 punt returns, 3,695 yards, 11.7 ypr., 14 TD’s, 89 (long) / 295 kick returns, 7,333 yards, 24.9 ypr., 5 TD’s, 98 (long)
Special teams are reserved for special people who impact the game in a huge way with few opportunities. Devin Hester isn’t special, however. YOU! ARE! RI-DICULOUS! Indeed, he is. This man had 11 return touchdowns in his first 2 seasons.
Most return guys would have made a career out of that. With 20 career return touchdowns (postseason included), he is the leader in non-offensive touchdowns scored.
And of course, who could forget his memorable kickoff return for a TD against the Colts in Super Bowl XLI? No one. Hands down. The greatest special teams player EVER!
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