2018 Position Breakdown: Special teams

The good: Kicker Matt Prater connected on 28 of 32 field goals and 30 of 30 extra points to account for 114 points. It was Prater’s eighth career 100-point season. Of kickers who attempted at least 30 extra points this season, he was the only NFC kicker to not miss a single point after attempt. He continues to be one of the most reliable kickers in the NFL.

Punter Sam Martin pinned 32 punts inside of the 20-yard line, which was a personal best and among the league leaders (sixth).

Long snapper Don Muhlbach passed Dominic Raiola for the second most games played in team history. His streak is currently at 228. Only Jason Hanson has appeared in more games for the Lions (327). Muhlbach was also named to his second Pro Bowl.

Fullback Nick Bellore led the Lions with seven solo special teams tackles and nine total special teams tackles this season. Since entering the NFL in 2011, Bellore ranks third in the NFL with 95 special teams tackles.

The Lions were also the best team in the NFL on kickoffs in 2018. On 79 kickoffs, Detroit forced the opponent’s average drive to start at the 23.8-yard line, the best mark in the NFL. Detroit forced opponents to start their drive inside of the 20-yard-line on 15 occasions, the best in the league.

The bad: Prater wasn’t perfect kicking field goals, no kicker usually is, and his 48-yard miss late in the fourth quarter Week 15 in Buffalo cost the Lions a chance to take the lead in an eventual 14-13 loss.

In that same game, a rare Muhlbach bad snap prevented a Prater extra point attempt after Detroit’s first touchdown of the game. The Lions lost the game by a single point.

After a disappointing 2017 season due to injury, Martin bounced back to record a punting average of 44.7 and a net of 39.2, but his gross average ranked 24th and the net 23rd.

The Lions also allowed the fourth most punt-return yards on the season (332) and were one of six teams to allow a punt-return touchdown on the year.

The Lions really missed All-Pro return man Jamal Agnew for a good portion of the season due to injury. They finished the year ranked 26th with a 6.3 return average on punts. They were better on kickoffs, however, ranking 11th (24.1).

Detroit’s 22 special teams penalties were the sixth most in the NFL.

Key stat: The Lions had the lowest opponent field goal percentage allowed in 2018, with opponents only converting 19 of 28 field goals for a 67.9 field goal percentage. Opponents were also 35 of 39 on extra point attempts for an 89.7 percent rate, tied for the fourth lowest in the NFL.

View team photographer Gavin Smith’s best stylized photos of the Detroit Lions' special teams from the 2018 season.

Free agents: Muhlbach, 37, is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent. He’s been at a point in his career for a while now where he signs one-year deals each offseason if he decides he wants to keep playing and the Lions still require his services.

There will come a time when either Muhlbach decides to retire or the Lions think they have to look to the future at the position.

Muhlbach is still playing at a high level. If he wants to keep playing, the Lions don’t have another option currently on the roster.

Draft: The Lions could potentially look to the draft for a young long snapper. GM Bob Quinn drafted Jimmy Landes late in the 2016 draft, but he was injured early and Muhlbach beat him out for the job.

MVP: Prater has totaled 554 career points and passed Doak Walker (534) to move into fifth place for most points scored in franchise history. His 114 points mark his fourth straight season and eighth of his career with at least 100 points.

Most improved: Martin played in 10 games in 2017 because of a foot injury and finished the year with career lows in gross average (43.4) and net average (37.6). Both of those numbers improved this past season (44.7 and 39.2), though they were both well below his career highs of 48.5 and 44.2.

Quotable: “I let everyone down, including myself,” Prater said after the missed kick in Buffalo. “I expect to make those kicks that I have in the past, so it’s frustrating anytime that you don’t come through when you get a big opportunity for your team. So it’s frustrating for sure and I expect to make that kick and hopefully I’ll get another shot at it.”

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