Chicago Bears place kicking and punting efforts left much to be desired in 2016
Consider: Connor Barth ranked 26th in field goal accuracy (though, he did make 85% of attempts from inside the 50) and Pat O’Donnell ranked 24th in average punt yards and 28th in net average. Neither will inspire much confidence as far as the kicking game is concerned.
But there is more to special teams than kicks and punts, even though it can be difficult to quantify.
Thankfully, Pro Football Focus has data beyond the kicks, and it shows that two Bears special teams aces were among the NFL’s best.
Gordon McGuinness dives into the best special teams players from each of the following units: Punts, Kickoffs, Punt returns, Kickoff Returns and Field goals/extra points. Further, each of those groups has positional bests as to really highlight the standout special teams contributors.
The Bears have two such players.
Chris Prosinski rated as one of the six best DL/LB on the punt team, and lined up at 14 different positions on the unit, showing off his range and versatility at an unheralded position.
Ka’Deem Carey, who started the year ahead of Jordan Howard on the running backs depth chart, also rated highly as a special teams player. The third-year player from Arizona made the cut as one of the best kick return blockers in football, with 38 snaps as a lead blocker on kick returns.
This probably isn’t the role Carey envisioned for himself after a college career in which he rushed for 3,814 yards, and scored 42 rushing touchdowns in his junior and senior seasons. However it is a role he has excelled in, which could lead to more playing time elsewhere if he keeps it up.
There has been plenty of attention paid to upgrades needed on offense and defense — and rightfully so. But when the Bears were great, their special teams units were among the league’s best.
Adding quality special teams contributors is among the most difficult things for a team to do because those aren’t high-priority spots to fill, often coming from the bottom half of the roster. The best among that group for (often thankless) special teams positions can be hard to identify, and there is significant natural roster turnover among their ranks.
Still, it represents an area in which the Bears can make strides toward improving. But at least they have a pair of players in place who proved to be productive.