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  • Writer's pictureNoah Beausoleil

UFL Special Teams Power Rankings - A Week 1 Review

Spring football has returned, bringing with it the revival of the Between The Goalposts Special Teams Power Rankings. This might have been the best "Week 1" we've ever seen concerning special teams. Specialists in the UFL gave us insane game-winning field goals, Punters throwing touchdowns, and blocked punts. Let's discuss how the UFL Special Teams units performed in this week's review;

 

Kickers

  Kickers performed exceptionally well in Week 1, making 13 of their 16 field goal attempts (81%). As offences struggled to gain ground, Kickers were tasked with attempting some crazy field goals. Almost 45% of all field goals attempted were from over 50 yards, and all 3 misses came from over 50 yards. Here are the UFL Week 1 Kicker Power Rankings;

  Working top-down;

  1. Matt McCrane (DC) scored all 12 of DC's points during their first game against the Brahmas. His first field goal was a long one, coming in at an even 50 yards, but it didn't faze him. McCrane drilled the ball right down the middle. He would go on to make his 3 next attempts from 34, 48, and 28 yards to remain perfect on the night.

  2. There isn't much to say about Jake Bates (MICH) that hasn't already been said. If you've been living under a rock for the past 72 hours, let me fill you in. After giving up a Touchdown to St. Louis and falling behind 16-15, the Michigan Panthers got the ball back with about 50 seconds left on the clock. The offence travelled 19 yards, and the stage was set for one of the most electric finishes football has ever seen. Jake Bates, who hasn't attempted a field goal since college, lined up for a 64-yard field goal. He let loose (and made the kick) as the Battlehawks took a time-out, attempting to ice him and get in his head. Bates would respond by lining up and making a second 64-yard field goal in a row, winning the home opener for Michigan in spectacular fashion. He would later attribute his success to his field goal unit, stating that he has "the best operation in the league".

  3. JJ Molson (HOU) was a bright spot on an otherwise dull Houston unit and will round out the top 3. He is the second kicker this week who scored all of their respective teams' points, going 2/2 against the Memphis Showboats. Molson's first attempt came from 56 yards out and his second was from 45 yards. I love seeing the only Canadian in the UFL ball out!

  4. Taylor Russolino (ARL) scored the first points in the UFL after he made a 38-yard field goal attempt late in the first quarter. He would go on to (barely) make his second attempt of the night, this time from 45 yards out.

  5. Andre Szmyt (STL) made his first professional field goal attempt from 36 yards out by sneaking it inside the right upright after being iced by Michigan.

  6. Donald De La Haye (SAN) was a statistical outlier this week, attempting no field goals. He will remain in the middle of the pack until we have some film to analyze.

  7. Matt Coghlin's (MEM) first field goal attempt as a member of the Memphis showboats was good from 27 yards out. He would later come out to attempt a 56-yard field goal before halftime that was no good; just wide-right. Coghlin also doinked a 55-yard attempt off the right upright. Redemption came from a 51-yard field goal that helped restore my confidence in the normally very accurate Kicker.

  8. Chris Blewitt (BHAM) made his first field goal attempt from 27 yards out but missed a 52-yard attempt wide right with just 27 seconds left in the game. Luckily the Stallions were already winning 27-14 over the Renegades.

 

Punters

  Punters punted the ball 23 times during Week 1 and averaged about 42 yards and 35 net yards per punt. Despite facing challenges with the XFL-style punt rules, which penalize punts going out of bounds, they were able to keep over 50% of their punts inside the 20-yard line and managed to keep 5 punts inside the 10-yard line (22%). There were only 3 punts that were recorded as Touchbacks, which accounts for about 13% of all punts. Here are the UFL Week 1 Punter Power Rankings;

  Working top-down;

  1. Sterling Hofricher (STL) put on a clinic during his first game punting 5 times for an average of 42 yards and 40 net yards per punt. He was able to pin his opponents deep with 3 of his punts (60%) remaining inside the 10-yard line. Hofrichter's best play came early on in the game when his punt landed at the 15-yard line before taking a Battlehawks bounce to the 2-yard line where his coverage team was able to down it, giving us the first perfect punt in the UFL!

  2. Brad Wing (SAN) had a stellar week punting, with all 3 of his punts travelling further than 50 yards. He had 2 punts (67%) remaining inside the 20-yard line including this 53-yard punt that was fielded at the 12-yard line and downed inside the 10-yard line. Wing was also the director of what is affectionately being called the "Thick Six" after faking a punt and throwing the ball 35 yards downfield to his Center, who then ran it in for a Touchdown!

  3. Marquette King (ARL) was the first to punt in the UFL, with a shifty directional kick that was kept inside the 20-yard line. He would come back in the third quarter and showed off his leg strength, launching the ball 62 yards while backed up on his own goal line. King currently leads the UFL in average net yards per punt, sitting about 5 net yards above the league average.

  4. Brock Miller (MICH) was probably given one of the most difficult challenges out of any Punter in the league; having elite returner Darrius Shepherd on the other side of the field. Miller was able to keep Shepherd in check for the majority of the game, punting 4 times and forcing 2 fair catches (50%), including this 33-yard punt that was caught at the 9-yard line. His most impressive punt was early in the fourth quarter when he was backed up deep in his endzone. Even with insane pressure in his face, Miller managed to launch the ball 45 yards downfield with enough hang time for his gunners to tackle Shepherd after a short 5-yard return.

  5. Matt White (MEM) had an interesting night punting the ball, punting 2 times and averaging 38 yards and 31 net yards per punt. While these numbers may seem a touch lower than other Punters, it's important to note that both of his punts remained inside the 20-yard line. White's first punt came late in the third quarter, where he got bailed out by a Houston Special Teams unit that was having a bad night. The 49-yard punt landed at the 1-yard line and took an unlucky bounce into the endzone, being registered as a touchback. Fortunately for White, a 10-yard holding penalty on Houston would push the starting field position to the 15-yard line. White's last punt came with just 45 seconds left in the game. He punted the ball about 27 yards downfield where the Houston returner has trouble fielding the ball cleanly. The Showboats would pounce on the loose ball and come out with an 18-12 victory.

  6. Paxton Brooks (DC) punted 3 times for an average of 39 yards and 37 net yards per punt. He was able to give his gunners plenty of time to get to the returner, demonstrating some pretty impressive hang times. Only 1 of his punts remained inside the 20-yard line and another went out of bounds at the 35-yard line.

  7. Colby Wadman (BHAM) being so low on this list is probably going to have a few people questioning these rankings but I can explain. His lone punt on the night sailed about 48 yards through the air and landed at the 4-yard line. Unfortunately for him, the Arlington Returner faked out his coverage unit and they all fell for it. The ball would subsequently roll into the endzone for a touchback and while it wasn't entirely Wadman's fault, having just 27 net yards on a 52-yard punt doesn't look that great on the stat sheet.

  8. Hunter Niswander (HOU) could not overcome the problems Houston was showing on Special Teams. He would have a punt deflected which tanked his averages and even when he had time to punt the ball away, penalties would hurt his net average. A prime example of this was on this 31-yard punt that resulted in a fair catch at the 11-yard line, but an ineligible man downfield penalty would bring the ball back 5 yards. Outside of the blocked punt, Hunter had a decent game and I expect he will climb the power rankings by the end of the season.

 

Kickoff Specialists

  There were 35 kickoffs during Week 1 and Kickoff Specialists averaged 38 yards per kickoff. They kept 9 of their kickoffs inside the 30-yard line (26%) and showed impressive leg strength with 15 kickoffs travelling for more than 70 yards, which accounts for 43% of all kickoffs. Here are the UFL Week 1 Kickoff Specialist Power Rankings;

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  1. Donald De La Haye (SAN) showed the entire league why he was chosen to perform kickoff duties for the Brahmas. Deestroying will finish Week 1 leading all UFL Kickoff Specialists in average yards per kickoff, averaging about 74 yards per attempt. It's not surprising that he had 80% of his kickoffs travel further than 70 yards with 40% of kickoffs remaining inside the 30-yard line. His most impressive kickoff of the night came right before halftime, where he booted a ball 80 yards downfield and the returner only managed to return the ball out to the 12-yard line.

  2. Paxton Brooks (DC) took over kickoff duties from Matt McCrane after he struggled to perform during his first 2 attempts. Brooks would fill in nicely, kicking off 3 times for an average of about 69 yards per attempt. He had all 3 kickoffs remain inside the 30-yard line, showing just how much hangtime he could get under the ball. I fully expect him to be the Kickoff Specialist in DC moving forward.

  3. Chris Blewitt (BHAM) kicked off 5 times for an average of about 67 yards per attempt, which is decent, but nowhere near his 2023 average of 73 yards per kickoff. This discrepancy is largely because he had a very short squib kick to close out the first half of the game, so it won't be held against him too much. Blewitt was able to keep 2 of his kickoffs (40%) inside the 30-yard line and had 3 kickoffs (60%) travel further than 70 yards. His most impressive kickoff of the night was this 75-yarder that resulted in a tackle at the 25-yard line.

  4. Jake Bates (MICH) kicked off 4 times, averaging 69 yards per kickoff, which was good for the third-highest average in the UFL. He showed off his elite leg strength, with 3 kickoffs (75%) travelling over 70 yards. Bates couldn't keep any of his kickoff attempts inside the 30-yard line but it must be noted that he was kicking the ball to the most dynamic returner in the UFL, Darrius Shepherd, who always seemed to find a lane and get out past the 30-yard line.

  5. Matt Coghlin (MEM) continued his hot-and-cold day into his kickoff duties. While he did have 5 kickoffs averaging 70 yards, he also recorded the only out-of-bounds penalty in Week 1. I wouldn't give up on him yet though, as he did show elite leg strength with 3 of his kickoffs (60%) travelling further than 70 yards, including this 74-yarder that was returned out to the 32-yard line. Coghlin's lone kickoff inside the 30-yard line came off a short kickoff that rolled right past the returner and was downed by a gunner at the 7-yard line.

  6. JJ Molson (HOU) kicked off 4 times this week, averaging about 62 yards per attempt. This average was slightly impacted as he was instructed to perform a squib kick late in the fourth quarter. Molson did show he can kick 70+ yard kickoffs, however, and this 78-yarder to start the game has got to be the blueprint for Molson moving forward.

  7. Taylor Russolino (ARL) struggled on kickoffs, doing so 4 times but averaging just 63 yards per attempt. This may have been due to a coaching decision to kick the ball shorter distances so your coverage team can get to the returner faster than normal, limiting the number of return yards allowed. This is exactly what happened on Russolino's only kickoff remaining inside the 30-yard line, a 52-yard kickoff that resulted in a tackle at the 28-yard line.

  8. Andre Szmyt (STL) kicked off 3 times, averaging 66 yards per kickoff. He did not have any kickoffs over 70 yards and could not keep any kickoffs inside the 30-yard line.

 

Long Snappers

  For the first time in spring football history, Long Snappers are getting evaluated! If you're unfamiliar with assessing long snappers, think of each snap as akin to a baseball pitch, where precision matters greatly. The long snapper aims to deliver each ball into the 'Strike' zone while avoiding 'Balls,' which signify off-target snaps. Each week I scour the UFL Official Highlight Packages and break down each snap thrown by Long Snappers. In Week 1, we were shown 20 total snaps, a solid number for an often overlooked position. Of the 15 field goal snaps shown, I recorded 13 as Strikes (87%). Of the 5 punt snaps shown, I recorded 4 as Strikes (80%). This results in an overall Strike percentage of about 85% (17/20). Here are the UFL Week 1 Long Snapper Power Rankings;

  Working top-down;

  1. Trae Barry (DC) will start in the first spot after an impressive Week 1 performance that saw him throw 4 flawless field goal snaps to Holder Paxton Brooks.

  2. Logan Klusman (HOU) had a very solid performance in Week 1, with 2 field goal snaps that were strikes. Klusman also impressed on his 2 punt snaps which were also recorded as Strikes. He was even able to race downfield and make a tackle (assisted tackles are worth 0.5 tackles) on this punt play. Klusman and his punt blockers struggled at times during the game, namely, this punt that was blocked. While the free rusher wasn't Klusman's fault specifically, some blame will fall on him and keep him from claiming the top spot.

  3. Turner Bernard (MEM) had a busy day, with a total of 6 snaps shown in Highlight Packages. This is the most we've seen from any Long Snapper! While his kicker struggled on some of the longer field goal attempts, Bernard's snaps were not the issue. All 4 of his highlighted field goal snaps were recorded as Strikes. Though one of his two punt snaps veered slightly off target, Turner delivered an overall impressive display in Week 1.

  4. Rex Sunahara (SAN) only had 1 punt snap highlighted this week and it was a Strike. He was a huge part of San Antonio's success in the punting game and even recorded an assisted tackle. It's also worth noting that Rex was the snapper for the "Thick Six" mentioned above, however, I did not record this as a true long snap.

  5. Jordan Ober (MICH) faced immense pressure during his first field goal snap of the season, as it came with just 00:08 seconds left in the game. It was for a 64-yard, game-winning field goal attempt. Ober was perfect in his delivery and a big reason it wasn't blocked before it passed the line of scrimmage.

  6. Ryan Langan (BHAM) had 1 field goal snap shown this week which was recorded as a Strike.

  7. Alex Matheson (STL) also only had 1 field goal snap highlighted. It was also recorded as a strike.

  8. Antonio Ortiz (ARL) had a rough week, with 2 field goal snaps deemed too high for Strike status. Ortiz was one of the most consistent Long Snappers in the XFL last year and his track record suggests he will likely overcome this rough start, needing only to shake off the rust from the offseason.

 

Kickoff Returners

  There were 33 kickoff returns this week, with Kickoff Returners averaging roughly 24 yards per return. Notably, 8 returns exceeded 30 yards, which accounts for roughly 24% of the total. The longest return of Week 1 was good for 48 yards. Here are the UFL Week 1 Kickoff Returner Power Rankings;

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  1. Trey Williams (MEM) had one of the most impressive days returning kickoffs, averaging 29 yards over 3 returns. His most impressive was this 33-yard return that got his team near midfield to start their drive.

  2. Deon Cain (BHAM) emerged as a serious contender for the top position after Week 1. He returned 4 kickoffs for an average of 23 yards. Included was an attempt where he had to throw himself on this short kickoff. If you exclude this, his average soared to nearly 30 yards per return. Cain's most impressive return was also his first, a 39-yard return that got his team past midfield.

  3. Juwan Manigo (ARL) returned 5 kickoffs for an average of about 23 yards. His standout return of the night, a 45-yarder, is the second-longest-recorded return in the UFL.

  4. Pooka Williams Jr. (DC) also fielded 5 kickoffs, averaging about 25 yards per return. His longest return of the night was good for 38 yards.

  5. Darrius Shepherd (STL) lived up to his reputation as one of the most electrifying Returners in the UFL. He returned 4 kickoffs for 102 yards, averaging 26 yards per return. Shepherd holds the record for the longest kickoff return in the UFL after returning a Jake Bates kickoff 48 yards late in the fourth quarter. Darrius seemed to get out past the 30-yard line on every kickoff return and had 2 returns (50%) over 30 yards. He did fumble, and lose, the ball on the last kickoff of the game which hurt his position in the rankings.

  6. Marcus Simms (MICH) returned 2 kickoffs, averaging roughly 26 yards per return, including a nice 32-yard kickoff return.

  7. Isiah Hennie (HOU) fell slightly short of expectations, returning 2 punts for a total of 53 yards, averaging 27 yards per return. Hennie avoided a stray kickoff, allowing the team to accept an out-of-bounds penalty and securing a great starting field position for his offence.

  8. Anthony McFarland (SAN) had an almost identical stat line to Hennie, returning 2 punts for a total of 52 yards, averaging about 26 yards per return.

  9. Devin Ross (MICH) returned 1 kickoff for 26 yards.

  10. Anthony Ratliff-Williams (HOU) returned 1 kickoff for 23 yards.

 

Punt Returners

  In Week 1, there were 14 punt returns, with Punt Returners averaging around 9 yards per return. Notably, 3 punt returns (21%) travelled for more than 15 yards and the longest punt return spanned 29 yards. There were some issues in fielding punts cleanly, with 2 fumbles occurring during punt returns. Here are the UFL Week 1 Punt Returner Power Rankings;

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  1. Amari Rodgers (BHAM) had a great week returning punts for the Stallions. His first return was caught at the 5-yard line and instead of calling for a fair catch, he was able to gain 11 yards. Rodgers's most impressive return came later on in the game when he returned a booming 62-yard punt from Marquette King. He had plenty of room to operate and managed to secure 20 yards for his efforts.

  2. Darrius Shepherd (STL) returned 2 punts, averaging about 14 yards per return. His most impressive punt came from the foot of Colby Wadman, who was backed up into his own endzone. Shepherd fielded the ball on the 37-yard line and returned it 23 yards before being tackled.

  3. Pooka Williams Jr. (DC) returned 3 punts for a total of 35 yards. While two of his returns were less successful in yardage, his 29-yard return stands as the longest punt return in the UFL, highlighting his remarkable athleticism.

  4. Jerry Elder (MEM) returned 1 punt for 8 yards.

  5. Marquez Stevenson (SAN) returned 2 punts for a total of 8 yards. It is worth noting his longest punt return was 9 yards and that he lost a yard on his second return.

  6. Trey Quinn (MICH) returned 3 punts for a total of 15 yards, averaging about 5 yards per return. Early in the third quarter he muffed a punt but was luckily able to regain possession before the opposition got to him.

  7. Isiah Hennie (HOU) was not so lucky. On his only punt return of the night, he muffed the ball and it was recovered by the opposing team.

 

Coverage Teams

  Coverage teams are an incredibly important aspect of every team. If you want to neutralize the league's best returners, you need guys on the field who can limit the number of yards given up. You want these numbers to be low, indicating the Coverage Team wrapped up the returner early in the return, therefore maximizing the flip of field position. Coverage Teams allowed on average 8.9 yards per punt return and 23.7 yards per kickoff return. There were a total of 14 penalties on special teams players, amounting to 120 penalty yards. Here are the UFL Week 1 Coverage Team Power Rankings;

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  1. The St. Louis Battlehawks allowed an impressive average of 5 yards on 3 punt returns and 26 yards on 3 kickoff returns. With only 1 penalty, they boast the lowest adjusted total average yards per return The Coverage Team was able to get downfield quickly, forcing returners to call for fair catches and putting themselves in position to down punts at the 2-yard line.

  2. The Memphis Showboats did not allow any return yards on their 1 punt return but did allow 25.3 yards on 3 kickoff returns. Notably, they were the only team to record a blocked punt. The Coverage Team was also able to recover a muffed punt to close out the game. The penalty they received hurt their adjusted average but the rest of their performance will overshadow it.

  3. The DC Defenders allowed an average of 4 yards on 2 punt returns and 21 yards on 5 kickoff returns. They were the most impressive unit on kickoffs, allowing the lowest number of yards per kickoff return.

  4. The San Antonio Brahmas allowed an average of 11.7 yards on 3 punt returns and an average of 24.4 yards on 5 kickoff returns. They did so without receiving a single penalty on special teams.

  5. The Arlington Renegades allowed an average of 15.5 yards on 2 punt returns and an average of 22.8 yards on 4 kickoff returns. They maintained discipline, receiving with no special teams penalties.

  6. The Michigan Panthers allowed an average of 14 yards on 2 punt returns and an average of 25.5 yards on 4 kickoff returns. They did not receive a single penalty on special teams.

  7. The Birmingham Stallions allowed 22.4 yards on 5 kickoff returns. Unfortunately for them, they were penalized 3 times for a total of 35 yards, tanking their adjusted average to almost 30 yards allowed per return. They were also tricked into looking foolish on their only punt return when a returner faked them out. This allowed the punt to roll into the endzone when it should've been downed inside the 5-yard line.

  8. The Houston Roughnecks allowed 8 yards on a single punt return and an average of 24.3 yards on 4 kickoff returns. They played quite well if it weren't for the 7 special teams penalties that they acquired. It's unacceptable to have that many penalties in a single game. They were penalized for being offside, personal fouls, and for illegally having a gunner downfield, revealing a need for more discipline ahead of their Week 2 matchup.

 

Individual ST Stats

  Here's who is making an impact on Special Teams;

 

  Here are your most penalized Special Teams Players;

 

Holders

  Throughout Week 1 of the UFL, there were 2 instances of errant snaps, both wrangled in by the holder. Here are the UFL Week 1 Holder Power Rankings;

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  1. Marquette King (ARL) was the only holder challenged this week. Both of his field goal snaps were impressive and he deserves to be mentioned. The first snap arrived at head height, but King was able to get the ball back down very quickly. The second snap was high, but again King was able to bring it down in time for his kicker to make the field goal.

 

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