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Detroit Lions special teams unit ranked among NFL’s best... again

The Detroit Lions special teams rank in the top seven for the second year in a row under coordinator Dave Fipp.

Syndication: Detroit Free Press Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

“I love Rick Gosselin,” Detroit Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp told the Lions media last year. “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.”

Gosselin is universally considered the best evaluator of special teams in today’s media. Each year, he publishes his special teams rankings, which factor in 22 different categories and result in a graded hierarchy.

After Fipp’s first year with the Lions, the team finished No. 7 on Gosselin’s grading scale. Now, after his second year in Detroit, Fipp’s special teams improved to No. 6 in Gosselin’s 2022 rankings.

Back-to-back top-seven finishes for Fipp are impressive, but even more so when you consider the revolving door the Lions have had at kicker over the past two seasons. Four kickers saw the field for the Lions in 2021 (Riley Patterson, Austin Seibert, Ryan Santoso, and Aldrick Rosas) and another three in 2022 (Seibert, Dominik Eberle, and Michael Badgley), yet Detroit kickers have collectively converted 50 of their 60 attempts (83.3%).

But the Lions' special teams unit isn’t going to rank near the top for finding success in one area and they have several other players who were sensational on special teams this year.

This season the Lions made Jack Fox the highest-paid punter in the NFL, and he continues to reward the team in multiple ways. He owns NFL records for the highest net and gross averages over a punter's first 25, 50, 75, 100, 125, and 150 attempts, as well as the Lions franchise records for net and gross punts in a single season.

But beyond being a field flipper, Fox is a terrific holder on field goals/extra points, can place the ball almost anywhere on kickoffs (he earned a 77.7 grade from PFF in this area), and has the arm talent to keep opponents on edge about his ability to execute a fake punt. Despite successfully converting on two throws on fake punts in 2021, he still managed to pull another off in 2022.

The Lions also got key contributions from their non-kickers on special teams. The first player that deserves recognition is punt returner Kalif Raymond, who was named a second-team All-Pro returner this season. His 13.2-yard average on punt returns was the second-highest in the NFL this season, and he was the only player to have over 600 receiving yards and over 250 punt return yards this year.

Raymond also returned a punt for a touchdown against the Jets in Week 15.

In kick coverage, special teams captain Josh Woods earned a 91.0 special teams grade from PFF, seventh highest overall and third highest among players with at least 100 special teams snaps. Malcolm Rodriguez only saw 68 special teams snaps, but he also earned a 91.0 grade from PFF, the highest amongst the rookie class. James Houston, who was called up halfway through the season, earned an 82.6 grade which landed him 15th among rookies.

But the most exciting special teams play for the Lions this season came from a player who was let go at the beginning of the season, only to return to Detroit after urging his agent to make it happen.

This was C.J. Moore’s second successful fake punt this season—the first came in his first game back with the Lions—and it illustrated the trust the coaching staff has in him. Not only was it fourth-and-8 (the longest this staff has attempted a fake punt from) but the Lions were at their own 26-yard line.

Overall, Fipp’s ability to harness the aggressiveness of coach Dan Campbell and execute his vision with the players available has led to two remarkable seasons in Detroit, and a well-deserved recognition at the top of Gosselin’s list.