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Colts 2016 season in review: Special teams were once again very good

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

For the past several years, the Colts’ special teams have been pretty good, and it’s largely because they have had the best kicking duo in the entire NFL in recent seasons.

Punter Pat McAfee had another terrific season, being named to the Pro Bowl as he set a career high by averaging 49.3 yards per punt, a mark that also led the NFL. His net yards per punt average was 42.7, which was 0.1 yards off of his career high and which ranked third in the league, while he had 19 punts pinned inside the 20 and nine touchbacks. He also was a terrific kickoff specialist once again.

Kicker Adam Vinatieri was just as automatic as usual as well, converting on 27 of 31 field goal attempts (87.1%) including 17 of 21 from 40+ yards. He was tied for sixth in the NFL in field goal percentage, tied for fourth in field goals from 40-49 yards out, and tied for second in 50+ yard field goals. He also made all 44 of his extra point attempts, finishing as one of only five kickers to finish the season perfect on extra points. During the season, he also broke the NFL record in setting the longest consecutive made field goal streak of all-time.

Those two are always good, however, so it’s always interesting to see how good the rest of the unit actually is. When it comes to the coverage units, it was up and down: on the one hand, the Colts didn’t allow a single return touchdown all year. But on the other hand, there were at least three times last season in which the Colts should have ‘easily’ downed a McAfee punt inside the 20 yard line but horribly misplayed it. Outside of those embarassing gaffes, however, it wasn’t that bad.

The return game also got a spark, which has been a rarity for the Colts in recent years. Quan Bray occupied both return spots early on before he was injured, but his replacements actually did just as well - if not better. Jordan Todman did very well as a kickoff returner, returning 16 kickoffs and averaging 29.9 yards per return, with eleven returns of 20+ yards and three of 40+ yards, including a 99-yard touchdown on the opening kickoff against the Packers that earned him AFC Special Teams Player of the Week. Among all players with more than one kickoff return this year, Todman ranked fifth in the NFL in yards per return. At punt returner, Chester Rogers got off to a rough start but really picked it up as the season went on, as he returned 13 punts for an average of 9.2 yards per return, with a long of 30 (his average ranked 16th among NFL players with at least ten punt returns last year).

Overall, the Colts had a very good special teams unit once again in 2016 - and we mustn’t leave out Matt Overton either, who didn’t screw anything up this year yet again, which is the most important criteria for a long snapper. The good news for the Colts is that a lot of it will stay the same: Vinatieri will still be kicking, Overton still snapping, and they’ll have Todman and Rogers back as the returners (though they could bring back Quan Bray and give him the chance to compete for the spots). But the big loss is obviously the retirement of Pat McAfee, who was undoubtedly the single most important special teams player the Colts had (and I’d argue any team had). That won’t be an easy guy to replace, as they’ll need a guy to do punting, kickoffs, and hold for field goals.

Though the Colts won’t have the best kicking duo anymore, they should still have a decent special teams unit moving forward as long as they can get a capable guy to fill McAfee’s huge shoes. But in 2016, the unit was once again very reliable.