Yes, the modern-day NFL is driven by high-octane offenses and backed by strong defenses. But no matter the rule changes, no unit can change a game quicker than special teams. One kickoff return for a touchdown or missed field goal can change the entire course of a game.
The New York Jets special teams’ unit once again was one of the better in the league last season. Once again displaying strong tackling technique, fantastic return ability, and decent punting, Brant Boyer has done a fantastic job as the team’s special teams coordinator. But even with all those positives, it could not make up for the mishaps from the kickers. From Jason Myers being let go to Chandler Catanzaro’s sudden retirement, the position was a mess that cost them dearly.
Without a doubt, offense and defense are a priority. But the Jets cannot let these wrinkles on special teams happen again. The team is down in Florham Park with a new kicking competition and a young, powerful punter handling kickoffs. Not to mention retaining their primary kick and punt return specialists. That being said, let’s take a look at the final position preview piece of 2020 with special teams!
2020 New York Jets Preview: Special Teams
Kicker: Sam Ficken and Brett Maher
All eyes in the training camp have been on the kicking competition. After making 67.9% of field goals last season, good for the second-worst in the league, the Jets must make a change. Yet rather than going out and acquiring an established veteran, the team took a risk.
First is Sam Ficken, who held the kicking job following the disastrous Kaare Vedvik-week. Ficken did a decent job once taking over the job from Kaare Vedvik last season. Going 19 for 27 is not perfect, but it could be worse. Given his familiarity with the team, it is understandable for the Jets to bring Ficken back. At the same time, Ficken is no lock as will need to compete against veteran Brett Maher. Entering his third season at 30-years old, Maher looks to rebound with a new team after struggling last season with the Dallas Cowboys. What he does bring is a nearly perfect record on extra points at 68 for 69, which Ficken cannot. Especially without pre-season football, it will be hard to pick a kicker based purely on training camp football. Thus, making the Jets decision that much more difficult.
Punter: Braden Mann
Back in 2016, the New York Jets took care of their punting problems in the seventh round with Australian Lachlan Edwards. Fast forward through multiple ups and downs, the Jets moved on, once again looking to the draft. This time in the sixth round, the Jets selected Texas A&M’s Braden Mann. With a powerful leg that can almost flip the field with ease, Mann has been one of college football’s top punters in recent years. Earning second-team AP All-American and first-team All-SEC honors in 2019, Mann is set to be the Jets punter for years to come. Additionally, it is expected for Mann to be the team’s kick off specialist too.
Long Snapper: Thomas Hennessy
Since being acquired back in 2017, Thomas Hennessy has been a rock as the Jets’ long snapper. So much so that the Jets gave Hennessy a four-year extension, locking him up until 2024. Only 26-years old, Hennessy is unquestionably going to be the Jets long snapper through his deal. Plus, his deal coincides with Mann’s rookie contract, creating a solid foundation for the punting unit for years to come.
Returner: Braxton Berrios
Last off-season, the Jets let Pro Bowl return man Andre Roberts walk in free agency. Creating a hole on special teams, the Jets looked to Trenton Cannon, Ty Montgomery, and others to fill. Instead, it was September addition Vyncint Smith who took the kick return job and literally ran with it. With an average of 29.9 yards per return, Smith was by far the Jets’ best kick returner in 2019. Smith was supposed to have a role as a receiver too until an injury put his Week 1 status in doubt. Therefore, punt return man and fellow receiver Braxton Berrios is the favorite to take both return jobs. Another early-season addition, Berrios capitalized with the second-highest yards per punt return mark in the league at 11.4. Between his ability as a receiver and experience in the return game, Berrios is easily the favorite with Smith out.
Last Word on the 2020 New York Jets Preview: Special Teams
For the New York Jets, they already have their punter, long snapper, and return specialist situations under control. Vyncint Smith and Braxton Berrios make for fine receiving depth and excellent return man. The duo of Thomas Hennessy and Braden Mann is one that should be set for years to come. On the other hand, the kicking situation could not be in a more high-stakes spot. There is no pre-season football in 2020. Neither Sam Ficken nor Brett Maher will get an opportunity to kick field goals in live-action football prior to roster cutdowns. Given the Jets’ problems last season at kicker, this competition is going to be one of the most important on the team.
Last Word on the 2020 New York Jets Preview Series
As it seems to every year, the New York Jets Preview series has quickly come and gone. Analyzing each player at every position, the Jets are in for a huge 2020 season. With few core pieces in place and a handful of players in contract years, every player is going to be fighting for their spot in the NFL this season. General manager Joe Douglas is ready to finally see what these guys got to offer long-term.
Tune in next week for the first 2020 New York Jets 53-man roster prediction!
2020 New York Jets Preview Series: Quarterbacks, Running Backs, Wide Receivers, Tight Ends, Interior Offensive Lineman, Offensive Tackles, EDGE Defenders, Interior Defensive Lineman, Linebackers, Cornerbacks, Safeties
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