By Tony Grossi
Extra Points …
Countdown to training camp (cont.): One in a series of lists leading up to the opening of Browns training on July 28. In our ongoing alternative to NFL Network’s Top 100 players, we offer our top 10 specialists. This category includes kickers, punters, returners and coverage specialists.
1. Josh Cribbs, Browns: He is the league’s most unique player. No other player is his team’s kickoff and punt returner and leader in special teams tackles. Reports of his demise as a special teams dynamo are greatly exaggerated.
2. Devin Hester, Bears: The holder of eight meaningful NFL return records – including most career TD returns (18) – he is the most dangerous return specialist of his era (six years) and perhaps of all time.
3. Shane Lechler, Raiders: He hit the 50-40 club (50 yards gross average, 40 net average) for the second time in his distinguished career, at age 35. His 47.6-yard career gross average exceeds legendary Sammy Baugh’s by 2.5 yards.
4. Andy Lee, 49ers: The NFC and South Bay complement to Lechler joined the 50-40 club for the first time in his eighth season. He bested Lechler in gross and net average, and also has Lechler’s career gross average in sight with a 45.7-yard mark.
5. Sebastian Janikowski, Raiders: The last kicker drafted in the first round (in 2000), he holds five meaningful NFL kicking records, including the longest field goal of 63 yards. He is the best long kicker in NFL history. He attempted one from 76 yards last year – into the wind. (It wasn’t close.)
6. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals: Exploded on the scene as a rookie with four long punt returns for touchdowns. He has four of 80 yards or more in 31 attempts. The NFL career record is five. He could pass co-holders Hester (197 career attempts) and Eric Metcalf (351) in his second season.
7. Adam Vinatieri, Colts: The only kicker with four Super Bowl championship rings. His conversions stood as the winning points in three of them. Establishing himself as the league’s best cold-weather kicker with New England his first six seasons earned him semi-retirement in a dome in Indianapolis.
8. Phil Dawson, Browns: Succeeded Vinatieri as the most consistent kicker in cold weather. He also has to tame the capricious winds in Cleveland Browns Stadium. Caused a change in instant replay rules when his kick off the curved bar created controversy in Baltimore. Duplicated the feat weeks later in a blizzard game in Cleveland.
9. Ted Ginn, Jr., 49ers: Electrifying and daring, he has three kickoff returns of 100 or more yards, including two in one game, and also has turned the kickoff-punt return TD twin killing in the same game.
10. DeSean Jackson, Eagles: By definition, his role as a big-play wideout should disqualify him from this list. But if he were just limited to return duty, he would be a top five return specialist.
|Tony Grossi covers the Browns for ESPN 850 WKNR, ESPN 1540 KNR2 and www.espncleveland.com. |
He has covered the Browns with distinction since 1984 and is one of 44 voters for the National Football League Hall of Fame. Email your “Hey Tony” questions to firstname.lastname@example.org
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