Grading the Redskins: Specialists

Grading the Redskins: Specialists
February 2, 2013, 10:15 am
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Over the past two weeks, CSNWashington.com Redskins reporters Tarik El-Bashir and Rich Tandler graded each position group’s performance in 2012 and evaluated the group’s outlook for 2013. 

Position: Specialists (P, K, H, LS, KR, PR)

Grade: B

2012 starters: Sav Rocca, Kai Forbath, Nick Sundberg, Niles Paul, Richard Crawford

Key reserves: Brandon Banks

Key free agents: Rocca, Sundberg (restricted), Banks (restricted) 

Rewind: The 2012 campaign did not get off to a memorable start for a number of specialists. 

Sav Rocca had punts blocked in consecutive games. Billy Cundiff missed five field goal attempts before being cut. Long snapper Nick Sundberg suffered a broken arm in Week 1. And Brandon Banks’ indecisiveness (and ineffectiveness) as a punt and kick returner eventually caused him to lose his job.

But like the Redskins’ record, the second half proved to be much better than the first for many of the key performers on special teams.

Rocca battled through a knee injury in his kicking leg and finished with the best gross punting average of his career (43.9 yards). He ranked 19th among all punters based on ProFootballFocus.com’s analysis of several important factors, including average distance and hang-time. Rocca also remained a steady holder on field goals, despite multiple kickers and snappers early on.

Click here for a detailed evaluation of Kai Forbath, who joined the team in Week 6 and finished the season as the NFL's leader in field goal accuracy, connecting on 17 of his 18 attempts.

Sundberg, meantime, remained one of the league’s most reliable long snappers after returning in Week 11 from a fractured left forearm. If he had an off-target snap all season, we don’t recall it. (The fact that the Redskins used their only IR exception on the 25-year-old speaks to how highly he's regarded.)

Banks, however, is another story. After a handful of curious decisions on returns, he was finally benched in Week 13 in favor of Niles Paul and Richard Crawford, who assumed kick and punt return duties, respectively. Paul averaged 24.9 yards per return in the final five regular season games, while Crawford averaged an impressive 19.5 on eight punt returns, including a pivotal 64-yarder in overtime against the Ravens.

Fast forward: In somewhat of a surprise development, special teams Coach Danny Smith left the Redskins last week for the same position in his native Pittsburgh. The team has not yet named a replacement.

Regardless of whether the new coach comes from inside the organization or outside, there figures to be some turnover.

Rocca is 39 and will be coming off of knee surgery on his kicking leg. While his punting stats are not overwhelming, it should be noted that he’s a favorite of head coach Mike Shanahan, who stuck with the veteran despite the injury. 

Forbath, meantime, is locked up for the next two seasons and, after an impressive debut, appears to be an emerging star – if, of course, he can improve on kickoffs.

Banks’ future, though, remains as murky as ever. A restricted free agent, he would seem to have run his course in Washington after being made inactive for the final four games of the regular season. But he was somewhat of a surprise to make this season's 53-man roster, too.

Paul showed promise as a kickoff returner; his average down the stretch would have ranked 10th. He also flipped the field with returns of 39 and 48 yards in the span.

Crawford, on the other hand, showed the potential to become a standout punt returner with some more seasoning. In addition to speed, he also showed decisiveness by quickly identifying creases and then bursting through them.

In summary, the Redskins have a core specialist in Sundberg, a budding star in Forbath and two promising young returners in Paul and Crawford. But with a new coach coming in, there's always a potential for change.