Although special teams are being slowly phased out of the NFL, it’s still one-third of the equation to a successful Buffalo Bills team. Last year the Bills experienced great team success by reaching the AFC Championship game. It’s fair to argue that the Buffalo Bills offense was the main catalyst for that success. With that said, the impact that special teams had on that greater picture of team success should not be undermined.
Last year the Buffalo Bills had a top-three return man, Andre Roberts, the highest-scoring rookie kicker in the league, Tyler Bass, and a punter that could flip field position with a swing of his left leg, Corey Bojorquez. However, the only one of those three that are returning is Tyler Bass.
Buffalo Bills 2021 Return Specialist
In this regard, the main difficulty the Buffalo Bills will face in 2021 will be replacing Andre Roberts. Roberts signed a two-year deal with the Houston Texans in free agency earlier this offseason. This makes the return specialist job in 2021 very much up for grabs.
The most obvious next man up to fill that void is Isaiah McKenzie. The play that should bolster everyone’s confidence in McKenzie was his punt return touchdown against the Dolphins in Week 17. However, one play does not give me enough confidence to hand McKenzie the job. He has to prove he can be consistent and reliable as the primary return man on both punts and kicks.
McKenzie does have some kick return experience, but he has proven to be much more effective on punt returns. The main concern I have with McKenzie is ball security. While he hasn’t had many recent examples of this issue, it was a problem he faced during his Bronco days.
This concern of ball security, coupled with McKenzie’s disparity in production between kick and punts, could have been the driving force to the Bills drafting Marquez Stevenson in the 2021 Draft. Stevenson had three kick return touchdowns and averaged over 26 yards per kick return at Houston. The bottom line is that it will be difficult for the Bills to replace the consistency that Roberts provided as the return specialist.
Can Tyler Bass improve on his rookie season?
When the Bills drafted Tyler Bass in the 2020 NFL Draft, it seemed like the writing was on the wall for Stephen Hauschka. Bass did end up winning the kicking gig during the preseason and was thrown straight into the fire. He had a shaky first game, making all four of his extra-point attempts but missing two of four field goals. That lack of consistency was certainly a concern up until the second Jets game.
In that game, Bass did miss two of his eight field-goal attempts but, without the six that he made, the Bills would’ve lost. From that game on, it was evident how much more confident Bass was when called upon. After Week 7, Bass only missed one field goal and one extra point for the remainder of the regular season.
Being a kicker in the NFL is just as much about physical ability as it is mental fortitude. If Bass can keep his confidence up, it should positively influence his consistency. Even if Bass can marginally improve on his consistency, it could translate into another win or maybe even two.
Buffalo Bills 2021 Punter: Matt Haack
Evaluating the Buffalo Bills punter is a pretty difficult task now. In the past, especially during the drought years, the punter was a very important part of the winning formula given the Bills’ offensive struggles during those years. Now the offense is very much holding their own weight and it makes the punter’s job a bit easier.
For example, Corey Bojorquez went from 79 attempts in 2019 to 41 attempts in 2020. Even with fewer attempts, 2020 was probably Bojorquez’ best season in the NFL. However, given that improvement, Bojorquez still exemplified some shortcomings. The most glaring deficiency from last season was the number of touchbacks Bojoquez conceded when he had the opportunity to pin opponents deep in their own territory. Secondly, he also had some issues as the holder for field goals and extra points.
Both are skills that new Buffalo Bills punter Matt Haack has been identified as being above average. While Haack has had some shanks here and there, he has a very good record of pinning opponents deep in their own territory. Haack does have a considerably weaker leg than Bojorquez, but as long as the Bills offense avoids three and outs, it shouldn’t be much of an issue.
Air Raid Hour recap
Some of you may think that special teams isn’t all that important, but it is. So important that Tilt and I decided to bring on a special guest to talk about the specialists. Friend and consistent supporter of the Air Raid Hour, Chris Jahnke joined us to talk about all things pertaining to the special teams.
We talked about what we can expect from Tyler Bass in 2021, the switch from Corey Bojorquez to Matt Haack, the return specialist competition(s), and much more. If you missed it live, you can catch this replay of the Air Raid Hour linked and embedded above.
As always, go Bills!