The Saints took a big step back in 2022 NFL special teams rankings

The New Orleans Saints special teams squad had a rough go of it in 2022. Place kicker Wil Lutz had his worst year as a pro by connecting on just 74.1% of his field goal tries, lowest for a team in the NFL, and it took a while for Rashid Shaheed to emerge as their best option returning punts and kickoffs. The Saints struggled to cover their own kicks, too, with injuries sidelining some of their best gunners at different points throughout the year.

It all compounded for New Orleans to rank at No. 20 in Rick Gosselin’s 2022 NFL special teams rankings. Gosselin has been scoring every team’s performance in the game’s third phase for years and he’s seen as the foremost authority on special teams play around the league. So it’s concerning to see the Saints fall within the bottom-third of the league.

That’s a steep drop from their fifth-best ranking in 2021 and 2020. And it’s kind of surprising. The Saints were ranked first in the NFL back in 2019, the first year with special teams coordinator Darren Rizzi in the building. Rizzi added the assistant head coach title in 2022 so it’s possible his added responsibilities in that role led to some gaffes in the kicking game, but that’s impossible to prove from the outside looking in.

Hopefully things turn around in 2023. The Saints may release Lutz as a salary cap casualty, and punter Blake Gillikin is a restricted free agent (as is their special teams ace J.T. Gray). Six of their top seven players in special teams snaps played last year are pending free agents: linebacker Andrew Dowell (379 snaps), safety Daniel Sorensen (319), Gray (320), linebacker Kaden Elliss (278), running back Dwayne Washington (259), and linebacker Chase Hansen (197). Change feels inevitable there, but after a down performance it’s probably needed.

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Story originally appeared on Saints Wire