We are one day closer to the start of the 2021 Steelers’ training camp at Heinz Field, which means we are one day closer to the actual football and no more articles ranking players, groups, etc.
If I can though, I have a few more pieces that fall into that category. Today, I’m approaching the end of the Ranking the Rooms: AFC North series here at Steelers Depot. On Saturday, I emphasized the safety of the division; today I look at the forgotten hero trio on each team: the specialists.
It may sound boring to some, but they are anything but boring when a big kick or point is needed and the snap needs to be picture perfect.
Let’s dive in.
1. BALTIMORE PORTS
This group will be the best choice in AFC North as long as Justin Tucker continues to kick football at a historic level for the Baltimore Ravens.
Tucker will likely reach the Pro Football Hall of Fame one day. He is as automatic as it gets as a kicker and is deadly anywhere within the opponent’s 45 yard line. Think about it. Tucker has a career-high 90.7%, which is his best in NFL history, and shows no signs of slowing down.
On punts, the Ravens still have veteran punter Sam Koch, who quietly continues to knock football at a high level and excel at directional punctuation. The 39-year-old shows Koch no sign of stopping and forms an All-Pro caliber duo with Tucker.
As for the long snapper, the Ravens are breaking a new first-year player Nick Moore, taking over for ten-year-old snapper Morgan Cox, who signed with the Tennessee Titans in free agency this offseason. Cox was without a doubt the best long snapper in the game, so Moore has big shoes to fill. But with the way the Ravens are training them on special teams, I would not bet that there was much fall.
2. PITTSBURGH STEELERS
If Justin Tucker was not in the division, I’m sure Steelers’ kicker Chris Boswell would be talked about more as one of the best kickers in football. Since his disastrous 2018 season, Boswell has been amazing, converting 93.5% and 95.0% of his kicks into black and gold, and has automatically become three points when the Steelers work within the 40-yard line.
He does not have the strongest leg, but he is exceptionally accurate and has improved steadily every year in the league.
On points, the Steelers certainly have question marks, but the talent is there.
I think fans are a little too harsh on Jordan Berry in general, but he is inconsistent. He has a big leg and can point directionally well, but it’s too far and few in between, which led to the selection of Pressley Harvin II in the 2021 NFL draft. Harvin is a big body with a monster leg, but if he assumes he makes the list, it’s a bit of a stretch.
There is no debate at all snapper. Cameroon Canaday has been acceptable to the Steelers the last few years. He’s not the best, and an upgrade could certainly be found, but he’s familiar with the trio of specialists who keep him around.
It’s worth mentioning that the Steelers brought kicker Sam Sloman to handle some duties in the preseason to try and keep Boswell fresh. It’s unlikely he’s playing so well that the Steelers move on from Boswell, but you never know in this league.
3. CLEVELAND BROWN
The Browns have struggled in recent years to find consistency and longevity on special teams, but it looks like kicker Cody Parkey and punter Jamie Gillan will change that.
Parkey, he of “double doink” scandal, jumped back in the big direction in 2020, converting 19 of 22 kicks to the Browns, giving Cleveland some consistency in a position of great need. While it remains to be seen if he can put together another strong year, it is worth pointing out that Parkey has converted 84.6% of his kicks.
On points, Gillan brings a giant leg to the position and has an average of about 44 yards per. He has the ability to turn fields and can really boom punts and take advantage of hanging time. The long snapper Charley Hughlett is the quiet veteran who is very stable and rarely makes mistakes.
4. CINCINNATI BENGALS
This group may be the one to skip one or two spots in this ranking next season, depending on the development of two rookies.
Bengals see kicker Austin Seibert and veteran punter Kevin Huber enter training camp with perceived jobs, but it is important to note that the Bengals invested in rookie kicker Evan McPherson out of Florida and punter Drue Chrisman out of Ohio State hoping to leave with leg talent and youth.
McPherson is famous on tikTok and Instagram for his other world-renowned talents as a trick-shot kicker. While not translated into the NFL, his leg talent and accuracy do. He was to win the job over Seibert.
As for Chrisman, he has a strong leg and does well with hanging time and placement. He should be an easy replacement plan for Huber, who is 35 years old. The Bengals could try to save money and go with the younger option.
2020 AFC North Specialists rankings:
Nr. 1 – Baltimore Ravens
Nr. 2 – Pittsburgh Steelers
Nr. 3 – Cleveland Browns
Nr. 4 – Cincinnati Bengals