Ah finally, the end of the roster.
The New Orleans Saints have had one of the league’s finest special teams unit in recent history, and this year is no exception. Special teams coach Darren Rizzi who joined just prior to 2019, has an eye for “special” talent in the roster and has helped groom players to be the very best at their positions.
In the Saints 2019 campaign, two special teams players were selected to The Associated Press All-Pro team for the first time in franchise history (J.T. Gray and Deonte Harris) .
Can this unit keep it up?
Here are the Saints options for special teams (along with their respective positions) in 2021:
- Wil Lutz, kicker
- Zach Wood, snapper
- Blake Gillikin, punter
- Nolan Cooney, punter
- Deonte Harris, kick returner and punt returner
Kicker and snapper are set in stone. Wil Lutz has consistently been one of the best kickers in the league despite having a down year in 2020, when he posted an 82.1 field goal percentage (23-of-28). Still, fans shouldn’t be too worried. Lutz gets into his “groove” pretty quickly (he owned a streak of 26 consecutive made field goals last year), so you can go ahead and kick any lingering doubts out of here.
Barring injury (knock on wood), Lutz should have a rebound season in his sixth year in New Orleans.
At 142 career field goals, he may not reach all-time great Morten Anderson’s 302 mark anytime soon, but he could move up to second place in the Saints record books with 27 successful kicks. The Saints are lucky to have him.
New Orleans Saints specials team unit continues to shine and impress
As for long snapper, Zach Wood won the position in strange fashion: a 2017 last-minute tryout after Jon Dorenbos was diagnosed with an aneurysm. Prior to the Saints, he was competing for snapping duties on the Dallas Cowboys. Given his consistent performances in the past three years, Wood has earned the full-time job and the four-year contract.
A couple years back, Wood was trolled for being the lowest-rated player in Madden 20, but hey, he’s good at what he does (and snapper is a pretty thankless job). No complaints here.
The punter battle comes down to second-year Blake Gilikin and rookie Nolan Cooney, but Gilikin’s the clear favorite. Gilikin will fill the shoes of the beloved but necessary cap casualty Thomas Morstead, whose most renowned kick “ambushed” the Colts and helped the Saints win their first Super Bowl.
Gilikin will do just fine, though.
The Saints kick and punt returning responsibilities will likely fall on Deonte Harris, with Ty Montgomery as a backup for kick returner and Marquez Callaway as a backup for punt returner.
In 2019, the then-rookie Harris led the league in punt return yardage, averaging 9.4 yards per punt return and 26.8 yards per kickoff return. The 5-foot-6 receiver isn’t so large and menacing when you spot him on the field, but watch the man run. His explosive open field ability makes him one of the wiliest return artists in the league, and by now he’s proved all his haters wrong (“But he’s too small!”).
In 2020, Harris improved his averages as both a punt returner and kickoff returner. Heading into training camp, he’ll continue being a dynamic threat on special teams, though he could split duties at receiver.
This Saints special team unit is golden. Darren Rizzi will no doubt have some tricks up his sleeve, Taysom Hill will get thrown into a few situations here and there, but the Saints couldn’t ask for a more versatile or talented unit.
The future is bright for these guys.