The Detroit Lions' special teams unit in 2016 was possibly the biggest highlight of the year. Punter Sam Martin nearly set an NFL record, Matt Prater solidified himself as the Lions’ kicker for however long he wants the job and coverage units, headed up by Don Carey and Johnson Bademosi, were nearly perfect all year. Even Andre Roberts added a couple of punt return touchdowns along the way.
So we kick off POD Award season with one of the most competitive categories: Special Teams Player of the Year. Here are the nominees:
It’s a shame that the Rams Johnny Hekker set an NFL record for punting net average, because it completely overshadowed the amazing season Martin had.
P @SamMartin_6's 44.2-yard net punting avg. this season was the third-best in @NFL history. pic.twitter.com/Oq5X7eqVb8— Detroit Lions (@Lions) January 13, 2017
While Matthew Stafford was busy orchestrating game-winning drives, Matt Prater was there preparing to finish them off. In every single opportunity Prater had to win the game, he won it. Prater was also perfect from beyond 50 yards—just fifth kicker to do that in NFL history with at least seven attempts.
Roberts drew a lot of heat early on for taking kickoffs out of the end zone but failing to reach the 25-yard line. However, Roberts quickly turned the narrative around by returning two punts for touchdowns. By the season’s end, Roberts ranked eighth in kick return average and third in punt return.
Carey won the Special Teams MVP, as voted by the players. According to the Lions, Carey led the team with 11 special teams tackles, and Pro Football Focus named him as the top gunner in the league.