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Kansas City Chiefs roster analysis: Dave Toub's special teams unit

Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

[Editor's note: We continue on with our Chiefs offseason roster analysis from Dirk Scholl, Aaron Hansberry, and Joe Edwards of Football Futures. Many thanks to them for allowing us to post their analysis here. Check out the previous positions here.]

The specialists

K - Cairo Santos 
P - Dustin Colquitt 
LS - Jorgen Hus, Brandon Hartson 
PR - 
KR - 

Other players: None

Free agents: Thomas Gafford (LS)

A general look at the unit

Football Outsiders lists the Chiefs' unit as the third best special teams. But there are significant differences in the four "areas of activity".

They are top five in both kickoff and punt return yardage (in yards per attempt). While it is difficult to attribute it to a single factor, this outstanding performance clearly shows how good the guys can be no matter who the opponent is and what impact the new regime (welcome, Coach Toub) has had on the unit.

Dustin Colquitt's 21st rank in average punt distance is misleading. He ranks fourth in punts inside the 20 which (other than his excellent feel for the distance and good coverage) demonstrates the Chiefs often punted from rather short distance, spoiling his overall average.

More critical is kickoff coverage. Third highest number of kickoff return attempts league-wide against the Chiefs resulting in the third highest total yardage returned is not good. However, they were able to limit the yards per attempt to 23.9, giving them the 18th rank in the league. But combined with the limited depth of the kickoffs opponents usually started at or even better than the 20 yard line (unfortunately I was unable to dig up any stats on that). The sixth rank in punt coverage (6.6 yards per attempt allowed) demonstrates that this mediocre performance is probably not to blame on the coverage team, but more on the kickoffs as such.

The 19th rank in field goal percentage isn't shabby, but it's not exciting as well. "Just" 83.3 percent of the field goals made has cost some guys the job.

That said you will not be surprised that Cairo Santos will be the focal point of the individual review.

The guys under contract

Cairo Santos won the kicking job over Ryan Succop last year presumably because he was just as good but significantly cheaper - a critical argument for a team up against the cap. Reports from training camp claimed he even had a potentially stronger leg than Succop.

Well, throughout the season things didn't look that easy. After early woes kicking field goals, missing two rather short ones to start the season, he recovered nicely and finished the year at a 83 percent field goals made ratio. However, most of his field goals were pretty short ones. Surprisingly (after the camp reports), his kickoff depth was questionable, rarely forcing touchbacks. Bob Gretz asked special teams coach Toub about it, and the latter stated that it's partially by design, partially due to leg strength. Santos would have to add muscle to get better depth on his kickoffs - something to be addressed during this year's offseason.

We also were not really happy with his field goal kicking. His kicks seem to be inconsistent, taking weird hooks especially from longer distance. This may be related to his limited leg strength or to technical issues. Whatever, it needs to be fixed. The Chiefs need a kicker who can consistently make field goals from 45-plus yards without forcing the coaching staff into a risk assessment. While we respect the fact that Santos is a rookie just getting accustomed to the big boys, we consider him a work in progress. That said we would not be surprised to see a second kicker in camp challenging him.

Dustin Colquitt does what he does and he does it well. He let a couple of punts slip this year, but otherwise was very consistent putting punts inside the 20 or, even better, inside the 10. It shows in the punt return stats against the Chiefs. He's a lock to return.

Long snappers Jorgen Hus and Brandon Hartson are unknowns. Canadian Hus spent time with St. Louis (2013) and Seattle (2014) before signing with the Chiefs but never saw the field during regular season. Hartson spent time with Chicago last year. Unless they both screw up big time one of them should win the long snapper job.

The free agents

Thomas Gafford should be considered out. Already during the season Chiefs started to work out potential replacements, so obviously there was something they didn't like. Or it may be Gafford is unwilling to return on a one year, minimum benefit contract once again.

Cap considerations

Cap considerations are negligible for this unit. The only designated special teams player with a significant cap hit (Colquitt at $3.8M) is one of the highest paid punters in the league, but he's one of the best as well. His contract may be something to monitor in the future, as his cap hit will increase to $4.5M next year and $4.9M in 2017. That's a lot of dough for a specialist, especially if you consider that in half the league the punters make less than $1M annually. Nevertheless, for now we consider him safe. Anyone else is or will be on minimum salary.

Overall assessment

The special teams are solid. However, the Chiefs should keep an eye on some critical areas.

Santos' leg strength might be the most critical factor right now. Unless he improves he should not be too confident he will not lose out to competition. A new long snapper is something the kickers will have to adjust too, but with a full offseason to get into sync we feel that should not be a serious problem.

Kickoff coverage has been shaky at times, but that may be related to the limited depth of the kickoffs.

Identifying potential kick . punt returners is tricky as those guys will be picked from players making the team in a balance between a backup position capacity and special teams role and dependent on individual workload. Over the past season the Chiefs used several players as kick returners, and most of them did pretty well, thus we'll stick with the old group for now. If Knile Davis sees an increased workload he may be stripped of kick return duties in favor of Frankie Hammond, Albert Wilson or a guy not even on the roster yet. For punt returns we stick with De'Anthony Thomas who as a role player on offense should retain sufficient capacity to handle that job again.

Coaching

Dave Toub and his crew over the past two years have done an exceptionally well job. They shook up the whole special teams environment creating a feeling that whenever the special teams enter the field, something good is going to happen. It is not by accident that last year Kevin O'Dea, the assistant special teams Coach, was hired by Tampa Bay to run the shop down there. Let's hope Toub will stick around for a while.

2015 SPECIAL TEAMS PROJECTION

K - Santos / Rookie
P - Colquitt 
LS - Hus / Hartson 
PR - Thomas 
KR - Davis, Hammond Jr., Wilson