The good: The Detroit Lions finished No. 6 in Rick Gosselin’s annual ranking of the 32 special teams units.
Punt returner Kalif Raymond's 13.2-yard punt return average was the best in the NFL, and that included a 47-yard touchdown in the win over the Jets Week 15. Justin Jackson ranked fourth with a kickoff return average of 26.7 yards.
Detroit finished second in the NFL in average starting position (27-yard line) following kickoffs. They had 85.3 percent of their kickoff returns total 20-plus yards, which was the highest percentage in the NFL this season. Detroit's three punt returns of 20-plus yards were tied for the fifth most in the league.
Punter Jack Fox's gross punt average of 48.8 ranked sixth. His net average of 41.4 was 15th.
Detroit's coverage units were solid all season as well. The Lions finished in the top 10 in opponent average field position start (25-yard line) after kickoffs. Only 52.9 percent of opponent kickoff returns totaled 20-plus yards, the fifth lowest percentage in the NFL this season. Detroit only allowed one punt return of 20-plus yards.
Linebacker Josh Woods led the Lions and finished in the top 10 in the NFL with 14 special teams tackles.
Kicker Michael Badgley finished the year 20-of-24 kicking field goals and was a perfect 33-of-33 on extra points.
View photos of the Detroit Lions special teams unit from the 2022 NFL season.
The bad: Detroit had just 14 punts end up inside the opponent 20-yard line, which were the fewest in the NFL this season. Carolina led the league with 39.
Opponents made 40 of their 45 field goal attempts on the Lions for an 88.9 percentage. The league average was 85 percent.
Key stat: The Lions orchestrated three successful fake punts in 2022. In Week 4, Fox threw a 6-yard pass to wide receiver Quintez Cephus to convert a 4th and 3. Week 8, safety C.J. Moore rushed for 13 yards on a 4th and 2. Week 14, Moore rushed for 42 yards to convert a 4th and 8.
Since Lions special teams coordinator Dave Fipp was hired in 2021, the Lions are 6-of-7 on fake punt attempts.
I nearly put Woods here because of his impact covering kicks as a core special teamer, but Raymond was one of the most explosive and consistent punt returners on the year, earning Second Team All Pro as a punt returner. He's an important player for this team as a receiver and returner.
Most improved: Jackson
Jackson showed in Detroit this past season he can be an elite kickoff returner. He had only ever returned five kickoffs in his career before coming to Detroit last offseason. He won the job for the Lions and finished with a 26.7-yard return average, which was fourth best in the league this year.
Free agents: Badgley (unrestricted), LB Chris Board (unrestricted), Jackson (unrestricted), Moore (unrestricted), Woods (unrestricted), CB Bobby Price (restricted), LS Scott Daly (exclusive rights), LB Anthony Pittman (exclusive rights).
It's always the bottom third of the roster that goes through the most change year over year and that affects special teams. Woods said after the season he wants to return, and I'd have to believe the Lions are open to that. Badgley doesn't have a big leg, but he only missed four field goals all season and really calmed down the kicking job after rocky starts from Austin Seibert and Dominik Eberle.
Draft: Young players always make up a significant portion of special teams and that will likely be the case for the Lions again in 2023. Could this be the year the Lions look to draft their kicker of the future? They do have a lot of draft capital. A few of the top kickers in the draft include: Harrison Mevis (Missouri), Chad Ryland (Maryland), Jake Moody (Michigan) and Will Reichard (Alabama)
Quotable: "I think as a coach or the longer I coached, the more gratitude you get from watching players succeed and do something maybe they've always wanted to do," Fipp said of seeing Raymond get his first career punt-return touchdown against the Jets. "And for him to score a touchdown, I had known that he had not scored one in his career. To be a part of him getting that first touchdown on a punt return in his career is very gratifying I would say for me. It's really part of why I do it.
"Anytime you're around players who you think are difference makers or great players, you really want to help them achieve and accomplish some goals or some things out there that you know they want to do. He's a great dude, he's a great worker, he loves the game of football. It's really important to him. Cut and picked up, and cut again by five, six different teams in this league, and then to go on and play like he's played is really a testament to who he is."