The days leading up to the start of the regular season involve much analysis and over analysis of offenses and defenses in an effort to project how a team might do this season. Often lost in the shuffle are special teams, no matter how many cliches coaches preach that it’s a third of the game.
Special teams are often where rookies have to make a mark to latch on to a roster spot and earn the trust of the coaching staff. It’ll especially be true in a year when a team traded up in the second round to draft a kicker.
But it’s not only first-year players who will find new roles carved out for them with teams. Even a potential future Hall-of-Fame inductee is among those looking to make a spark with a new club this year.
Here are five newcomers who could make that splash on a new team this season:
- Devin Hester, return man, Baltimore Ravens: Perhaps a 33-year-old return man coming off offseason foot surgery doesn’t have much left, but that’s not what the Ravens thought, and nor did the six teams fighting for his services during the free-agency period. With a former special teams coordinator at head coach, Baltimore is regularly one of the best on special teams and will now trust one of the greatest return men of all time. In four straight seasons, Hester has posted a higher kickoff return average than his career average of 24.9. He’s not one to doubt, even at this stage of his career.
- Jalin Marshall, return man, New York Jets: Lost in the offseason discussion about Ryan Fitzpatrick was the fact the Jets special teams did enough to lose their grip on a playoff spot last year, and an undrafted rookie looks to be one of the new options to save them. The Jets held onto Marshall largely because of his return abilities, which he showed with an 84-yard kick return in the preseason. He had some issues putting the ball on the ground at Ohio State that would spell instant trouble at this level, but he was an All-Big Ten selection in the return game and presented a constant threat to take a punt to the end zone. He’ll look to give that spark this season to a Jets offense that is desperate to make life as easy as possible on the starting quarterback.
- Roberto Aguayo, kicker, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: He’s the kicker the Buccaneers infamously traded up for in the second round. It’ll probably never be appropriate value, even if his preseason misses wind up being a meaningless blip on a terrific career. The most accurate kicker in college football history also has a big leg, and he showed it with the 50-yarder he made in the rain in a preseason game against the Redskins. That followed up a 6 of 6 performance against the Browns the previous week, so the hope for the Buccaneers is his struggles are gone and he can now aid one of the more potent young offenses in the game.
- Drew Kaser, punter, San Diego Chargers: Preseason stats mean little for most positions, but they can say something about punters. The Chargers have to feel good that their sixth-round pick just led the NFL with a 52.3-yard average this preseason, especially after he averaged 46.2 yards per punt at Texas A&M, the second-highest mark in college football history.
- Andy Lee, punter, Carolina Panthers: The Browns’ spring cleaning dipped into the summer, netting them a fourth-round pick for Lee. At age 34, Lee is on the decline, finishing 21st last season in average and tied for 17th in punts downed inside the 20-yard-line. But he’s going to take on a far more important role for a contender, which gets him back to the value he used to have when the 49ers were in the thick of the NFC race.