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Cardinals Special Teams Player Grades for 2009

Punter

Ben Graham: Grade: A

Overall: There is no doubt that Ben Graham had about as good a season as a punter can have.  He was nothing short of a weapon for the Cardinals this year.  Among all punters (44 players), Graham ranked 4th in average yards/punt, 2nd in punts inside the 20 yard line (1 shy of league lead), and 8th in net yards.  Graham’s excellent play gave the Cardinals defense a significant advantage because he consistently put opposing teams in poor field position.  It is very likely that Graham will be rewarded with a contract extension for his efforts.

The Regular Season Numbers: 86 punts; 4,033 yards; 64 yard long; 46.9 yards/punt; max hang time 5.36 seconds; 42 punts inside 20 yards; 43.8 net yards/punt.  Best Performance: Week 12 against Tennessee: 5 punts inside 20 yards, including 2 inside 5 yards.

Place Kicker

Neil Rackers: Grade: C

Overall: Let’s first discuss Rackers’ season before the Wild Card Round against the Packers.  Among all place kickers (41 players), Rackers ranked 1st in FG percentage made with at least 10 attempts, 11th in number of touchbacks, and tied for 29th in average kickoff distance.  Rackers only missed one FG attempt during the regular season in week 2, which was from over 40 yards; Rackers did not miss an extra point.  Based on the regular season, therefore, Rackers had an outstanding 2009 campaign.  Statistically, he was the most reliable kicker in the NFL; a sure-fire A season.  Having said that, we must talk about the postseason.  While these grades do not take into account postseason play in 99% of the cases, if a player had an extremely strong or extremely poor postseason effort, it must be considered.  Rackers’ 34-yard miss on a sure game winner significantly damaged his standing with the team and probably soured his entire season.  Although the argument can be made that he was battling a groin injury, this is no excuse.  In addition, there was speculation by team insiders that the coaching staff mishandled the play clock before the kick, which forced Rackers to rush his preparation and attempt; this is no excuse.  This analysis may seem harsh.  After all, Aaron Rodgers clearly missed a wide open Greg Jennings in over-time that would have won the game, but no one would give Rodgers a C grade for that game or the season.  Kickers, however, unlike quarterbacks, have only one job.  Also, unlike quarterbacks, kickers don’t have to contend with an entire field of defenders.  All a kicker has to do is trot onto the field and put the ball through the uprights; this should be near automatic from inside 40 yards, which is how Rackers performed, except when it mattered most.  Whatever the reason may be, Rackers might have kicked himself through the doors by failing to kick it through the uprights.  A kicker that fails to convert on the most important attempt of the season from a near automatic distance is mostly worthless, regardless of his regular season stats.

Kick Returners

LaRod Stephens-Howling (Rookie) [Kickoff Returns]: Grade: B+

Overall: Stevens-Howling had a great rookie campaign.  His contributions to special teams were invaluable this season and he continued to impress from beginning to end.  Among all players with at least 1 kickoff return (146 players), he ranked 7th in return yards, tied for 38th in average yards/kick, and was 1 of 14 players that returned a kickoff for a TD in 2009.

The Regular Season Numbers: 52 kickoff returns; 1,257 return yards; 99-yard long; 24.2 yards/kickoff return; 1 TD.  Best Performance: Week 12 against Tennessee: 99-yard kickoff return for TD.

Steve Breaston [Punt Returns]: Grade: B

Overall: Aside from his stand out play at wide receiver, Breaston turned in an average year as the team’s primary punt returner.  Among all players with at least one punt return (84 players), Breaston ranked 15th in return yards and 47th in yards/return; Breaston failed to return a punt for a TD, but he did manage a 67-yard return against Minnesota that was stopped just short of the goal line.

The Regular Season Numbers: 38 punt returns; 253 return yards; 11 fair catches; 64-yard long; 6.7 yards/return; 0 TDs.  Best Performance: Week 13 against Minnesota: 67-yard punt return.

Kick Coverage Stand-Out Players

Sean Morey

Overall: Morey, the special teams captain, continues to earn his title.  He played very well in punt/kickoff coverage and led the team in tackling in those categories.  Among all special teams players that played in at least 8 games this year (136 players), Morey tied for 7th in tackles with 15 solo tackles.

LaRod Stephens-Howling

Overall: Stephens-Howling contributed every game as a punt/kickoff coverage specialist.  In week 12 against Tennessee, he downed two punts inside the five-yard line, giving the Titans awful field position.


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