In the last installment of 2021 Position Battle going into training camp, I have to give some love to a couple of special guys.
Last year, the special teams unit the Raiders had at their disposal was exceptional.
Kicker Daniel Carlson was able to stand out and solidify himself as the starting kicker for the foreseeable future. After being cut by the Minnesota Vikings and fighting his way on to the Raiders roster, he was able to make team history – eclipsing Sebastian Janikowski's franchise record for most points in a single season (143). He also was the AFC Special Teams Player of the Month in December 2020 and made 94.3 percent of his field goals the entire season.
"Any time you can break a record like that for an organization like the Raiders especially, it's a huge deal," Carlson said after the 2020 season ended. "Glad I could help the team they way I could this season and rack up some points along the way."
Punter AJ Cole also had a phenomenal season with a punt average of over 44 yards for a second straight season. While Cole had 20 fewer punts in 2020 -- which is not a bad thing -- he made the most out his opportunities with a plethora of inside the 20-yard line punts to set up the Raiders defense. The North Carolina State alum has also been able to build great chemistry with Carlson and his long snapper Trent Sieg, setting them up for another successful season.
"There might be certain teams that don't really care too much about the punter, but I feel that there's a lot of fans out there that really are informed and really care about the punter position because the Raiders have had the best in history at the position," Cole said last season. "I'm just excited to have the opportunity to represent this organization week in and week out."
As for kick and punt returners, Hunter Renfrow and Henry Ruggs III seem to once again have a handle on the positions. However, while they will be expected to carry such a big weight in the offense, they might be eased out of special teams as training camp ensues. Two newcomers to look out for are undrafted free agents Dillon Stoner out of Oklahoma State and DJ Turner out of Pittsburgh. Head Coach Jon Gruden has already held both players in high regard as they fight for a spot on the final roster.
On Upon Further Review this week, I had the chance to open a six-pack of questions with Eddie Paskal regarding the state of special teams. A question he asked me is if Carlson would be able to complete over 95 percent of his field goals this year, and cautiously I said yes. If he can continue to grow his confidence and play through the weather conditions he'll have to endure late in the season in Cleveland, Kansas City and Denver, there's no doubt he can do it on his way to another borderline All-Pro season.
I'm also believe that the Raiders will keep Renfrow on special teams to return punts, and that he will find a way to become dominant among the rest of the NFL in that capacity. Last season, he averaged 11.5 yards per punt return.
View photos of the Las Vegas Raiders specialists heading into 2021 Training Camp.