Rick Gosselin has covered the NFL for nearly a half-century and is universally considered the guru of special teams. Each year, he publishes his Special Teams Rankings, which factors in 22 different categories and results in a numbered grade.
“I love Rick Gosselin,” Detroit Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp told the Lions media in early December. “He does a great job, for years. I think the world of him. He’s reached out to me time-to-time. I have a lot of respect for the rankings that he does. I really mean that.
“His rankings come out at the end of the season, so people use those at the end of the season. There’s all these other websites and Twitter accounts and all that stuff that put out a lot of information. And I would say, in general, when it comes to special teams rankings, I do not think a lot of those are very good. The thing I hate about it is there’s coaches out there that are getting graded on that, and it’s based off of information that I don’t think is very accurate. But I do like Gosselin's. I think his is probably one of the closest.”
Based on Gosselin’s rankings system for 2021, the Lions, led by Fipp, finished with the seventh-best special teams unit. This is the second year in a row they finished in the top 10 (they were third in 2020), despite a full-blown coaching staff overhaul.
Fipp is also no stranger to finishing in the top 10 on Gosselin’s rankings. During his eight seasons with the Eagles before joining the Lions, he earned a top-10 finish in three of those seasons, finishing No. 1 in 2014, No. 2 in 2015, and No. 1 again in 2016. In four years that followed those incredible finishes, the Eagles special teams dropped to 13, 14, 15, and 17, respectively.
Many Eagles beat writers attributed the drop in Gosselin’s rankings due to a depleted roster and lack of effort from players, as opposed to Fipp not living up to previous expectations. A return to the top 10 in Detroit is a strong indicator that the Eagles beat was correct, and Fipp is still among the best special teams coordinators in the NFL.
In the article, Gosselin points out that the Lions' special teams were one of only four teams that “did not suffer any negative plays on special teams – no blocked kicks, turnovers or return touchdowns.”
The Lions also finished in the top five in of Gosselin’s rankings in:
- Opponent starting point: Third best, 23.8-yard line
- Punting: Second, 49.2 gross yards — a franchise record set by Jack Fox
For the 2nd consecutive season, @Lions P @MrJackFox established a new franchise record for gross punting average (49.2).— Detroit Lions PR (@LionsPR) January 20, 2022
Since entering the #NFL in 2020, he leads the League in gross average (49.2) and net average (43.5).#OnePride pic.twitter.com/LgXel7sLZG
Other Lions’ special teams highlights from the 2021 season include:
- Rookie kicker Riley Patterson converted on 13 of his 14 field goal attempts (93% conversion rate), with his only miss coming from a desperation 55-yard attempt at the end of the first half in Seattle.
- Kicker Austin Seibert converted on 10 of his 12 attempts.
- Kicker Ryan Santoso converted on two of his three attempts.
- Kicker Aldrick Rosas converted on his only attempt of the season.
- Fox set a career-long with a 70-yard punt. Though it only officially counted once, he actually pulled it off twice in 2021, once in the preseason and again in the regular season:
- And of course, they converted three onside kicks and three fake punts — including three trick plays in one game against the Rams in L.A.