Special teams play has always been an aspect of NFL football that can be overlooked. Furthermore, when special teams units are discussed in detail, nearly all of the coverage is centered around the kickers and return specialists.
Today we look to shine a light on some of the less appreciated special teamers. Kickers and return men might get all the glory but you need players who can do things like throw blocks, run downfield to cover kicks and rush punts or field goals.
Let’s try and rank some of the best special teams contributors in Jets history. These may have been young players striving for a bigger role, older players trying to stay in the league or just players who took pride in their special teams play to become essential contributors.
Here’s our top 20 with current players not eligible:
20 - Eric Smith
Smith, a safety drafted in 2006, quickly earned himself a reputation as a top special teams contributor, although his production waned over the course of his career. He did catch a first down on a fake punt in 2009 and blocked a punt in 2010 though.
19 - Trenton Cannon
Cannon, a recent late-round pick, wasn’t able to reach his full potential at running back with the Jets after getting injured early in his second season with them. However, he impressed with some impact plays on special teams and clearly could have ended up much higher on this list. Cannon is still a big-time special teams contributor who had nine tackles in 11 games last season.
18 - Zach Sudfeld
According to the Jets’ official site, the tight end Sudfeld led the Jets with 25 special teams tackles in 2014. Officially, he only had 14 so who knows the criteria on which that statistic was compiled, but it still warrants a mention.
17 - Matt Chatham
The linebacker Chatham spent two seasons as a special teams captain for Eric Mangini’s Jets during which time he racked up 20 special teams tackles in 25 games.
16 - Corwin Brown
The defensive back Brown spent two years with the Jets in the late nineties and later spent three seasons with the team as an assistant coach. In 1997, he was named as a pro bowl alternate after season that included a memorable game against the Raiders where he caught a 27-yard pass on a fake punt and then blocked a late field goal that was returned for the winning score.
15 - Godwin Turk
Turk, who is most notorious for separating his shoulder while celebrating a fumble recovery, spent his first two seasons with the Jets in the mid-seventies, during which time he was a key contributor on special teams. On two of his biggest plays, the linebacker blocked a punt and blew up a fake punt.
14 - Mark Smolinski
With rosters much smaller in the sixties and seventies, offensive and defensive starters would often be expected to contribute on special teams, so you didn’t get as many specialists. Smolinski, though, was one such player as he started off as a fullback but became the team’s special teams captain at the end of his career. During the Super Bowl-winning season, Smolinski had a vital touchdown on a blocked punt against New England.
13 - Bernie Parmalee
Parmalee was brought aboard for his special teams contributions in 1999, having previously been a productive running back in Miami. He had a solid two years with the Jets, the best of which was his first season in which he had 17 tackles and showcased some good hitting abilities.
12 - Ken Rose
Rose’s special teams contributions were so well-respected that he eventually went on to become a special teams coordinator for the Jets, albeit a very bad one on the worst team in franchise history. Rose racked up 17 special teams tackles in 1988.
11 - James Ihedigbo
Ihedigbo began his Jets career as a rookie camp attendee on a tryout basis, but he earned a contract and eventually became a key contributor on special teams from 2008 to 2010. He had an impressive 24 special teams tackles in 2009, although this actually wasn’t enough for the team lead.
10 - Rusty Guilbeau
Guilbeau’s physical special teams play was a feature of the Jets in the mid-eighties. Special teams coach Larry Pasquale described Guilbeau as “our leader” and noted that the hard-hitting linebacker had a key role on all four main units.
9 - Rashad Washington
Washington, a seventh round pick in 2004, was a safety who never started a game in his four-year career. However, he was a big-time contributor on special teams, racking up 20+ tackles in back-to-back seasons at one stage.
8 - Jim Richards
Richards, who passed away in March, was another key contributor on the Super Bowl III winning team, coming up with two special teams tackles in the big game itself. The defensive back also blocked a punt and returned another blocked punt for a touchdown in his Jets career.
7 - Chad Cascadden
Cascadden was a productive leader on special teams and was named as a pro bowl alternate during one of his five seasons - all of which were with the Jets. After a 16-10 win over Seattle in 1995, the linebacker was named as the NFL’s special teams player of the week.
6 - Chris Hayes
Hayes was a special teams captain and a leader on Mike Westhoff’s unit who was praised for his football IQ. He had two memorable huge plays for the 2001 Jets - a blocked punt that Jason Glenn returned for a touchdown in the win over Oakland that clinched a playoff place and the only touchdown of the game on another blocked punt several weeks earlier in a 13-12 win over Carolina.
5 - Jerald Sowell
Before he stepped in as Richie Anderson’s replacement at fullback, Sowell was a consistent contributor in kick coverage, at one point racking up 88 tackles in five seasons.
4 - Rontez Miles
Miles was in the Jets organization for seven years but 54 of his 55 appearances came over the last five seasons. During that time, the safety provided the Jets with consistent leadership and productivity on special teams, including a league-high 15 solo tackles in 2017. He also had this memorable “block”.
3 - Nick Bellore
Bellore is about to enter his 12th season and has consistently been among the best special teamers in the NFL, culminating in a long overdue pro bowl appearance in 2020. He formed this reputation after being picked up as an undrafted free agent by the Jets. In four seasons as a backup linebacker, he racked up 63 special teams tackles, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery and caught a 23-yard pass on a fake punt - Tim Tebow’s longest pass as a Jet.
2 - Wallace Wright
Wright was an undrafted rookie in 2006, and wasn’t given much of a chance to make the team, but he established himself as one of the league’s best punt gunners in four years with the team. The wide receiver averaged over 20 tackles per season in his final three years, including a league-high 26 in 2009.
1 - Chris Burkett
Burkett achieved something unique in 1991 as he was voted as the Team MVP. While he did make some offensive contributions with four touchdown receptions, he only caught 23 passes so it was definitely his special teams prowess that won him the award. This wasn’t a bad team without any other candidates either - they reached the playoffs!
With four fumble recoveries, Burkett was 2nd in the entire NFL and racked up 13 tackles and a crucial blocked punt against Miami that he recovered and ran in for a score:
He was a good special teams player throughout his four and a half seasons with the team having joined them as a 27-year old. However, he peaked with that 1991 season which surpasses anything a Jets player has achieved before or since.
Inevitably, in our efforts to showcase the overlooked, we may have still not mentioned some great special teamers from Jets history in our list. If you think of any other candidates, let us know in the comments section.
Of course, though, there was no room on our list for any long snappers. Somehow, it seems like if they wanted more exposure, they wouldn’t be long snappers...