The man with the safest job in Cleveland, Chris Tabor, led a special teams unit with a lot of new faces in critical roles. Cody Parkey was tasked as the kicker for most of the season, including kickoffs. Britton Colquitt took over the punting duties late in the preseason. Charley Hughlett was the man who snapped the balls to both these men. Let’s take a hard look at the Browns special teams unit; examining what happened in the 2016 season and what needs to happen before the 2017 season begins.
Purely Special team players on the roster: K Cody Parkey, LS Charley Hughlett and P Britton Colquitt.
Cody Parkey: Made 20 of 25 field goals and 20 of 21 extra points.
Britton Colquitt: Punted 83 times for 3,761 yards with an average of 45.3 yards per punt and 22 punts landing inside the 20-yard line.
Charley Hughlett: Posted five tackles.
The Browns kicking duties in 2016 were assigned to Cody Parkey. Parkey was signed to be the kicker in Week 3 after the original starter, Patrick Murray, was lost for the season with an injury. Murray was cut later in the 2016 season. Parkey started off rough; missing 3-of-6 field goals versus the Miami Dolphins in a game the Browns lost in overtime. As the season progressed, the young kicker got in a groove and showed that he may have the stuff to be a professional kicker. He made 17-of-19 the rest of the season after Hue Jackson realized he couldn’t hit long kicks. He is a kicker who is accurate, but loses his accuracy as he attempts longer kicks. He was 8-of-13 from over 40 yards. Parkey has a chance to certify himself as the team’s kicker with a good offseason.
The Browns changed punters late in the preseason, trading punter Andy Lee and signing veteran Britton Colquitt. Colquitt is a solid veteran punter. He ranked middle of the road in punting average with 45.3 yards per punt (18th in the NFL) and the number of punts inside the 20-yard line with 22 punts (22nd in the NFL). He was 14th in the NFL with a 40.3 yards net punt average. He is a punter who will not amaze with his strong leg, but he is a steady and reliable punter. He is an unrestricted free agent this offseason.
Charley Hughlett is the Browns long snapper. Many of you probably did not realize it, which is a good thing. The only time Hughlett would be mentioned is if he made a tackle or if something went wrong with the snap. He did not have a bad snap, so he is in line to be the Browns long snapper next season. He must re-signed first.
The Browns coverage teams are good both on kickoffs and punts. The Browns held the opposing kickoff returner to just 21.3 yards per punt, which was the 13th lowest average in the league. On punts, the Browns held the opposing punt returner to 8.4 yards per punt, which was the 14th lowest average in the league. Neither coverage team allowed a touchdown. So, the Browns are solid in the position to defend returns on special teams.
The Browns returners did not perform as well as the coverage teams. On kickoffs, the Browns returners averaged just 18.6 yards per return, which was the fifth lowest average in the league. The Browns shuffled through kickoff returners, never really finding a great choice. On punts, the Browns returners averaged just 6.7 yards per return, which was the seventh lowest average in the NFL. The Browns primary punt returner was Duke Johnson, but he never was able to break a big one on any of his returns. He averaged just 6.6 yards per return with the longest return being just 18 yards. The Browns need more big play ability from their returners.
The Browns coverage teams are good units who prevent teams from getting good field position for their offense. As I noted earlier, the Browns held opposing kickoff returners to just 21.3 yards per punt, which was the 13th lowest average in the league and held opposing punt returners to 8.4 yards per punt, which was the 14th lowest average in the league. The units also did not allow a touchdown. The coverage teams are solid units with the reliability to limit the good field position for the Browns defense.
The Browns returners on punts and kickoffs lack explosive and game-changing plays. As I stated earlier, the Browns kickoff returners averaged just 18.6 yards per return, which was the fifth lowest average in the league and the Browns punt returners averaged just 6.7 yards per return, which was the seventh lowest average in the NFL. The longest return on kickoffs was just 36 yards, while the longest punt return was 18 yards. The Browns need playmakers at the returner spots in order to help give the offense better field position.
To Do List
- Find playmaking returners
The Browns returners last season did not make the big time plays that could change the game and flip the field position. The Browns punt and kickoff returners ranked in the bottom ten teams on return average per return. The returners were unable to get consistent good returns to help change field position. Cordarrelle Patterson and Ted Ginn Jr. are both unrestricted free agents who the Browns can target in free agency to improve this need. In the draft, John Ross and Dede Westbrook could be returner options.
- Re-sign Charley Hughlett
Long snapper Charley Hughlett is a restricted free agent this offseason. He played well enough to be re-signed and be the starting long snapper next season.
- Investigate if there are better options at punter and/or kicker
The Browns current kicker, Cody Parkey, and current punter, Britton Colquitt, are solid players who can be relied upon to be the starters next season. But, both players could be replaced if a superior player is available. Neither Parkey nor Colquitt are elite special teamers who can change the game with their kicks. Colquitt is a free agent this offseason, so he will need to be re-signed if the team believes he is the best choice. It would not be a huge task, but the Browns should at least investigate to see whether there are better options for kicker and/or punter. Whether its through free agency or the draft, the Browns should look to see if they could upgrade either position.