August 21, 2008

Maclin the most dynamic special teams player

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What's the only sight more treacherous to Big 12 opponents than Missouri's Jeremy Maclin lining up at receiver?

Seeing Maclin prepare to catch a punt or kickoff.

Maclin was the only player in the nation to score on a catch, a run from scrimmage, a punt return and a kickoff return last season. He gave Missouri its first touchdown off a kick return since 1982. He also gained 2,776 all-purpose yards, the most by a freshman in NCAA Division I-A history.

All those facts made Maclin the No. 1 special teams performer in the Rivals.com Power Rankings, which measure the nation's top players and coaches at each position.

The special teams ratings are a little trickier than most because kickers, punters and return men are lumped into one category. We gave extra credit to combination kicker/punters such as Utah's Louie Sakoda, the No. 2 performer on our list.

Performing double-duty also benefited Arizona State's Thomas Weber, Wake Forest's Sam Swank, UAB's Swayze Waters, SMU's Thomas Morstead and Air Force's Ryan Harrison.

Return men also gained extra credit if they handled kickoffs and punts. That's one of the reasons Maclin and Florida's Brandon James earned spots in our top five.

We're introducing our preseason power rankings on a position-by-position basis. We'll continue Friday with the introduction of our head coach rankings.

The rating of a player and coach can fluctuate each week during the season depending on how they fared the previous week, but the power rankings measure overall career performances as well as their most recent results.

THE SPECIALIST RANKINGS
1. KR/PR Jeremy Maclin, Missouri, Soph.
The buzz: Maclin set an NCAA Division I-A single-season record for freshmen with 2,776 all-purpose yards last season, the fifth-highest total in history regardless of class. His 99-yard kickoff return against Kansas State marked the first time Missouri had scored on a kickoff return since 1982. He also scored on a 66-yard punt return against Illinois.
2. K/P Louie Sakoda, Utah, Sr.
The buzz: The nation's best combination kicker/punter ranked 11th in the nation last season with a punting average of 44.3 yards per attempt and also went 19 of 22 on field-goal attempts. He went 10 of 13 from at least 40 yards, and also had 28 of his 73 punts downed inside the 20. Six of his punts landed inside the 5.
3. K/P Thomas Weber, Arizona State, Soph.
The buzz: Weber went 24 of 25 on field-goal attempts last year, including a game-winning 37-yarder in the final minute of the Washington State game. He became the first freshman to win the Lou Groza Award, given annually to the nation's top kicker. If that isn't enough, Weber also took over as the Sun Devils' punter in October and averaged 39.3 yards per attempt.
4. P Chris Miller, Ball State, Sr.
The buzz: This fifth-year senior has ranked among the nation's top three punters each of the past two seasons. He finished third in the nation last season with an average of 45.4 yards after placing second in 2006 with an average of 46.3. Over the past two seasons, 36.4 percent of Miller's punts have been downed inside the 20.
5. KR/PR Brandon James, Florida, Jr.
The buzz: James ranked second in the nation last season with an average of 18.1 yards per punt return, including an 83-yarder that started off the Gators' rout of Tennessee. He also ranked 17th in the nation with a kickoff return average of 28 yards. He led the nation with seven returns of at least 50 yards.
6. K/P Sam Swank, Wake Forest, Sr.
The buzz: This fifth-year senior rivals Sakoda and Weber as the nation's best combination kicker/punter. Swank's 60 career field goals lead all active players. Swank is 9-for-12 from at least 50 yards, and owns a career punting average of 40.4. He already is Wake Forest's leading career scorer with 286 points, which puts him 107 away from the ACC record held by former Maryland kicker Nick Novak.
7. P Kevin Huber, Cincinnati, Sr.
The buzz: Huber led the nation with an average of 46.9 yards per punt last season and was one of three finalists for the Ray Guy Award, given annually to the nation's top punter. He also was named the Big East's special teams player of the year. Four of his punts last season were downed at the opponent's 1.
8. KR A.J. Jefferson, Fresno State, Jr.
The buzz: Jefferson led the nation last season with an average of 35.8 yards per kickoff return, including touchdowns in back-to-back weeks against Utah State and Hawaii. Jefferson also returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown last season.
9. K Kai Forbath, UCLA, Soph.
The buzz: Forbath went 25 for 30 on field-goal attempts last season and became the first UCLA player to make five field goals from at least 50 yards in a season. He needs only one more long-range kick to match Justin Medlock's school record of six career field goals from at least 50 yards. His 25 field goals last year set a Pac-10 freshman record.
10. K/P Swayze Waters, UAB, Sr.
The buzz: Cue the puns now: Yes, the kicker with the familiar first name had the time of his life last season while setting a school single-season record with 22 field goals. Waters went 22 of 28 overall and 3-for-4 from at least 50 yards. Waters also punts, and averaged 41.4 yards per attempt last season.
11. KR Marcus Herford, Kansas, Sr.
The buzz: Herford commands such respect around the Big 12 that coaches selected him as the Big 12 special teams player of the year last season. Keep in mind that this league also features Maclin, the No. 1 player on our list. He averaged 28.7 yards per kick return last season to rank 15th in the nation. He scored on an 88-yard return against Baylor and a 74-yard return against Southeastern Louisiana.
12. K Austin Starr, Indiana, Sr.
The buzz: How's this for delivering under pressure? Starr matched a career-long with his 49-yard field goal against Purdue that sent Indiana to its first bowl in 14 years. That marked Starr's third game-winning kick and helped him finish the year 21 of 23 on field-goal attempts. He was one of three finalists for the Groza Award.
13. KR/PR C.J. Spiller, Clemson, Jr.
The buzz: Spiller ranked 14th in the nation last season with an average of 28.8 yards per kickoff return, including touchdowns against Duke and Wake Forest that made him the first Clemson player to score on kickoff returns in back-to-back games. Spiller also averaged 8.6 yards per punt return. After only two years, Spiller already ranks seventh in school history with 3,138 career all-purpose yards.
14. PR Sammie Stroughter, Oregon State, Sr.
The buzz: Stroughter missed most of the '07 season, but he scored touchdowns on three punt returns two years ago and set a school record with 470 punt return yards in a single season. Stroughter returned punts for touchdowns in back-to-back games against Eastern Washington and Boise State two years ago and added a 70-yard punt return for a score in an upset of USC.
15. KR DeMarco Murray, Oklahoma, Soph.
The buzz: Murray averaged 29.3 yards per kickoff return last season the second-highest total in school history to rank seventh in the nation. He scored on an 81-yard return against Tulsa and a 91-yard return against Baylor. His 129 total return yards against Baylor was the fourth-highest total in school history.
16. PR/KR Javier Arenas, Alabama, Jr.
The buzz: Arenas has scored on three career punt returns, including a 61-yarder against LSU last season that gave the Crimson Tide a fourth-quarter lead over the eventual national champions. Arenas ranked seventh in the nation last season with his average of 17.4 yards per punt return. He also had 27 kickoff returns for 657 yards last year, the second-highest total in school history in each category.
17. K/P Thomas Morstead, SMU, Sr.
The buzz: Morstead ranked ninth in the nation last season with an average of 44.6 yards per punt, which helped SMU rank second in the nation in net punting. Of Morstead's 47 punts last year, 21 landed inside the 20 and only four were touchbacks. Morstead also went 13 of 20 on field-goal attempts last season and made three kicks from at least 50 yards.
18. K/P Ryan Harrison, Air Force, Sr.
The buzz: Harrison went 19 of 27 on field-goal attempts and made three kicks from at least 50 yards, including a 56-yarder against Army and a 57-yarder against TCU. He also made a game-winning 33-yarder in overtime against TCU and averaged 42.9 yards per punt last season.
19. P Justin Brantly, Texas A&M, Sr.
The buzz: Brantly has ranked among the nation's top 12 punters each of the past two seasons. He ranked 10th in the nation with an average of 44.3 yards per attempt in '06 and followed that up last year by placing 12th with a 44.2 average. He closed his 2007 season by averaging 55 yards on six punts in an Alamo Bowl loss to Penn State.
20. KR Trindon Holliday, LSU, Jr.
The buzz: This 5-foot-5 dynamo makes up for his lack of size with an abundance of speed. Holliday, who competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials, has scored on a kickoff return each of his first two years at LSU. He delivered a 92-yard kickoff return against Arkansas two years ago and added a 98-yard return against Ole Miss last season.
21. P Jacob Richardson, Miami University, Sr.
The buzz: Richardson ranked sixth in the nation and tied a school record last season with his punting average of 45 yards per attempt. He has a career average of 41.98 yards per attempt, which puts him on pace to depart Miami as the school's leading career punter. Twenty-four of his 68 punts last season went at least 50 yards.
22. K/P Pat McAfee, West Virginia, Sr.
The buzz: McAfee went 13 of 19 on field goals last season and made 11 attempts in a row at one point before a late-season slump. He also punts for the Mountaineers and averaged 42.7 yards per attempt. Seventeen of his 46 punts last season were downed inside the 20.
23. PR Deon Murphy, Kansas State, Sr.
The buzz: Murphy ranked third in the nation last season with his average of 17.5 yards per punt return, including an 80-yard touchdown against Missouri State. He was named the Big 12 offensive newcomer of the year for his work as a receiver and was Rivals.com's first-team All-Big 12 punt returner.
24. KR Malcolm Lane, Hawaii, Jr.
The buzz: Lane ranked 10th in the nation last season with an average of 29.2 yards per kickoff return. He scored on a 94-yard return against Northern Colorado and an 87-yard return against Utah State.
25. KR/PR Jacoby Ford, Clemson, Jr.
The buzz: Injuries bothered Ford for much of last season, but he scored on a 92-yard punt return against Florida Atlantic and a 94-yard kickoff return against Louisiana Tech two years ago as a true freshman. The 94-yard punt return was the longest in school history. Ford is just the third player in Clemson history to score on a punt return and a kickoff return.

Preseason Power Rankings: RB | WR | TE | OL | DL | LB | DB

Steve Megargee is a national writer for Rivals.com. He can be reached at smegargee@rivals.com.




 

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