AFC North position rankings: Special teams

The AFC North is running a series for the next two weeks where every position will be ranked and what needs to change will be determined. It will start with special teams, which includes everything from kickers to returners to coverage teams.


1. BENGALS: Mike Nugent was the league's most accurate kicker until late in the season when he missed four field goals over the final three games. His success rate (86.8 percent) led the AFC North. Kevin Huber led the division with a 44.1-yard net average on punts. The Bengals also were the only division team that had both coverage units ranked in the top 10 in the NFL. Brandon Tate set a team record for combined kick/punt returns and returned a punt for a touchdown, although he seemed hesitant in running straight up the field. What could change: The Bengals want to keep Nugent, but he could leave as an unrestricted free agent. The team might think about getting a more consistent returner.

2. BROWNS: Two punters went down with injuries and the long-snapper was cut because he fouled up two critical fourth-quarter field goals. Josh Cribbs led the AFC North with a 11.4-yard punt return average and ranked second on kickoffs with a 25-yard average. He led the Browns with 14 special teams tackles, even though he did not become part of the kick coverage unit until after the fifth game. Phil Dawson was 24-of-29 on field goals, with two of the misses coming off bad snaps. His eight field goals beyond 50 yards was tied for most in the NFL in 2011. The Browns' kickoff coverage team ranked 12th in the NFL. What could change: Like the Bengals, the Browns could lose their kicker because Dawson is an unrestricted free agent. The team has to find a long-term solution at long snapper after Ryan Pontbriand imploded.

3. STEELERS: Antonio Brown went to the Pro Bowl as a returner after finishing fifth in the NFL with a 27.3-yard kickoff return average and 10th with a 10.8-yard punt return average. His longest punt return was a 60-yarder that went for a touchdown. The Steelers' coverage teams both ranked in the top half of the NFL. Punters Daniel Sepulveda and Jeremy Kapinos both were in the middle of the league in net average. Kicker Shaun Suisham ranked last in the AFC North with a 74.2 conversion rate (23-of-31). What could change: The Steelers need to upgrade at kicker because Suisham is too inconsistent. The team could go in a different direction at punter. Sepulveda is a free agent.

4. RAVENS: Billy Cundiff took a step back from his Pro Bowl season of last year, missing 10 field goals on the road. Sam Koch produced a career- and franchise-best 46.5 yards per punt, but he placed 21 punts inside the 20-yard line -- his fewest since 2007. The coverage teams allowed three touchdowns (two on punts and one on a kickoff). David Reed's strong average as a kickoff returner (29.7) was overshadowed by his three fumbles. Lardarius Webb ranked last in the division with a 10.0-yard average. What could change: The Ravens need to bring in another kicker -- perhaps Shayne Graham -- to compete with Cundiff, especially after that miss in the AFC championship game. Baltimore needs to improve its coverage teams. Three of the team's top four special teams tacklers are free agents.