There will be Detroit Lions football in two days, and today we wrap up our NFC North Position Rankings. The North featured some of the best Special Teams play in 2023 with the top return man and some solid punters with good averages per punt, so who does Detroit Sports Nation rank as the best Special Teams unit entering 2023 in the NFC North?
NFC North Position Rankings: Special Teams
Number Four: Green Bay Packers
The Green Bay Packers will enter 2023 with a new kicker as they drafted Anders Carlson with the 207th pick out of Auburn. Last season for the Tigers, he had a 70.6 field goal percentage going 12-17, and he was perfect on extra points, going 22-22; his longest field goal was 46 yards. The Packers also have back Pat O'Donnell, who will be punting for them, and last season he had 52 punts for 44.5 yards averaged per punt.
The Packers drafted Jayden Reed 50th overall out of Michigan State, and he will be their punt returner to start the year with the Spartans; last season, he had 13 returns for an average of 8.77 yards, and his longest was for 19 yards. The Packers' kickoff return man will be Keisean Nixon, who last year returned 35 kickoffs for the Packers and averaged 28.83 yards a return with one touchdown; he also led the league in return yards with 1,009.
Number Three: Chicago Bears
The Chicago Bears come into the 2023 season with Cairo Santos as their kicker again, and last season he went 21 for 23 with both of his misses coming from 40+ yards away; extra points seemed to be a struggle for Santos last year as he was 27 for 32: out of the three experienced kickers Santos had the lowest amount of points scored in the previous year. As for their punting game, they have Trenton Gill back, who had 66 punts last season, and he averaged 46 yards per punt which ranked him third among all the kickers in the division on average yards.
The Bears are also expected to have Dante Pettis returning punts and Velus Jones returning kickoffs; last season, Pettis had 18 attempted returns and averaged 9.06 yards per return, and Jones had 22 kickoff return attempts and he averaged 27.60 yards per return.
Number Two: Minnesota Vikings
The Minnesota Vikings return their whole special team unit from 2022. Greg Joseph is back as their kicker and last season, he had a field goal percentage of 78.8%, going 26-33; his longest was from 61 yards; he struggled through on extra points, going 40-46, but he finished the season with 118 points. Minnesota also brings back Ryan Wright as their punter and last season, he had 73 punts and averaged 47.4 yards a punt; he also managed only one touchback and had 32 punts inside the 20-yard line.
They also bring back both return men from last year, with Kene Nwangwu taking the kickoffs and Jalen Reagor taking the punts; last year, Nwangwu finished second in the league with 920 yards and scored a touchdown, he averaged 26.3 yards per return, and Reagor had 26 returns for an average of 6.42 yards per return.
Number One: Detroit Lions
The Detroit Lions last season had Michael Badgley as their kicker, and he was expected to be back in 2023. Still, the Lions decided to go out and get Riley Patterson and bring him back to Detroit, and ultimately, they decided he would be their guy for this season leading to Badgley being cut. Last year for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Patterson was 30-35 on field goal tries for an 85.7 success rate; he was also 36-37 on extra points and finished the season with 126 points. The Lions also had John Parker Romo on their roster at the beginning of the preseason after they signed him this offseason, but it seems like the job will ultimately be Patterson's.
The Lions bring back Jack Fox as their punter, and Fox is one of the best in the league, last season he had 52 punts for a 48.6 average yards per punt, which was sixth best in the league; he also had just three touchbacks, and had 14 punts inside the 20-yard line. Detroit is also expected to have Kalif Raymond back as their kickoff and punt returner; Raymond only had two returns last year on kickoffs. Still, when it came to punt returns, he finished third in the league in average yards with 13.2, he had a punt return for a touchdown, and on 20 returns, he had 264 yards.
Bottom Line: Special Teams can make or break the NFC North race
The Detroit Lions know very well how much Special Teams can help, especially at kicker, after losing a game a few years back to the Baltimore Ravens when Justin Tucker hit a 66-yard field goal to beat them. The NFC North is full of talented players entering the 2023 season, but the Lions own a solid kicker and one of the best National Football League punters, giving them the number-one spot entering the season.