The Detroit Lions’ special teams were special again in the 2017 season.
The Lions backed up their No. 2 ranking in 2016 with a sixth-place finish in 2017 in a comprehensive rating system that is considered a primary standard for ranking overall performance of special teams.
Rookie All-Pro Jamal Agnew’s punt returns along with solid performances in the kicking game and coverage units led the Lions to their sixth-place ranking – by far the highest of any NFC North team.
Overall, the Rams were No. 1 with 196.5 points. The Lions had 274 points. Other NFC North teams: Packers 16th with 363.5 points; Vikings 23rd, 420; Bears tied for 27th, 447.
The rankings, based on 22 separate categories, are compiled annually by noted NFL columnist Rick Gosselin, formerly of the Dallas Morning News and now with the Talk of Fame Network and its website.
The Lions were first or tied for first in the following five categories:
Team punt return average: 14.0 yards, led by Agnew’s league-leading average of 15.4.
Opponent net punting: 37.1-yard average.
Giveaways: None, tied for first.
Kicks had blocked: None, tied for first.
Points allowed on returns: None, tied for first.
Other categories where the Lions scored in the top 10:
Opponent starting point on kickoffs: Second, 23.1-yard line.
Kicks blocked: Three, tied for third.
Points scored on returns: 12 (Agnew’s two punt returns), tied for 4th.
Extra point percentage: 97.5 percent (40-41), seventh. The top six teams were 100 percent.
Opponent field-goal percentage: 79.3 percent (23-29), eighth. That is usually an indication of a strong rush, which forces missed kicks.
Takeaways: One, tied for eighth.
The Lions’ biggest decline from the 2016 season was in punting. That was caused in part by an offseason injury that caused regular punter Sam Martin to miss the first six games. The Lions used three punters in his absence, including kicker Matt Prater for part of one game.
As a team, the Lions were 25th in punting average (43.69), 27th in net average (39.3) and 23rd in punts inside the 20 (25).