NFC South: Courtney Roby

Most significant move: The fact the Saints didn’t release or put Jonathan Vilma on injured reserve or the physically unable to perform list is a very strong sign that the veteran linebacker is expected to be healthy early in the season. That’s very significant. Vilma may be nearing the end of his career, but he still is the emotional leader of this defense and his mere presence makes this unit stronger.

Going in a different direction: Courtney Roby had been a fixture on special teams since his arrival in 2008. But the Saints have some younger, more athletic guys, like Rafael Bush, they want to get involved on special teams. Roby’s value also was hurt by the fact he brought little as a wide receiver. The team elected to keep Andy Tanner over Roby because Tanner has some upside as a receiver.

What’s next: After losing outside linebackers Will Smith and Victor Butler to injuries, the Saints could look at the waiver wire to add some more help for the pass rush.

Saints moves: Released WR Courtney Roby, DE Jay Richardson, CB Chris Carr, S Jim Leonhard. Waived QB Ryan Griffin, WR Preston Parker, FB Austin Johnson, WR, Saalim Hakim, G Elliott Mealer, TE Keavon Milton, TE Michael Higgins, G Andrew Tiller, C Jeremiah Warren, LB Ray Shipman, LB Rufus Johnson, DT Isaako Aaitui, S Jerico Nelson, LB Baraka Atkins, T Marcel Jones, CB Korey Lindsey and CB Jumal Rolle. Placed C Eric Olsen on injured reserve.
The New Orleans Saints apparently view tight end Benjamin Watson as something more than just a backup.

The proof is in his pay.

Watson
In a twist of fate, Watson will make more than $700,000 more than what starter Jimmy Graham does in total cash this year. According to numbers obtained by ESPN.com, Watson will earn $2.15 million this season, while Graham will make $1.323 million in 2013.

Anyone else out there thinking about a possible holdout by Graham if he doesn’t get an extension (and a big raise) of a rookie contract he clearly has outplayed?

For the record, Watson’s three-year deal is worth $4.95 million. He got a $1.2 million signing bonus and a $950,000 first-year base salary. Watson’s 2014 salary jumps to $1 million and he has a $250,000 roster bonus and a $50,000 workout bonus.

In 2015, Watson’s salary will be $1.2 million and he also will have a $250,000 roster bonus and a $50,000 workout bonus.

I’ve also obtained the numbers on some other contracts recently signed by New Orleans players. Receiver/special teams player Courtney Roby got a one-year deal worth $905,000. But the Saints designated Roby as a veteran minimum benefit player, meaning his cap figure for this year is just $555,000.

The Saints did a similar maneuver with linebacker Ramon Humber. His one-year deal is worth $740,000. But the veteran minimum benefit puts his cap number at $550,000.

According to my calculations, the Saints are roughly $1.85 million under the cap.

Reviewing NFC South free agents

March, 7, 2013
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We’ve shown you the lists of potential NFC South free agents before. But let’s do it again because there have been some minor moves and the free-agency period is getting ready to start Tuesday.

Here’s the list of potential free agents for all four NFC South teams:

Atlanta Falcons. Tony Gonzalez, Brent Grimes, Sam Baker, William Moore, Will Svitek, Mike Cox, Todd McClure, Luke McCown, Christopher Owens, Mike Peterson, Garrett Reynolds, Lawrence Sidbury and Vance Walker all can become unrestricted free agents. Michael Palmer can become a restricted free agent.

Carolina Panthers. The potential unrestricted free agents are Derek Anderson, Antwan Applewhite, Gary Barnidge, Dwan Edwards, Ben Hartsock, Sherrod Martin, Captain Munnerlyn, Louis Murphy and Mike Pollak. Richie Brockel can become an exclusive-rights free agent. Andre Neblett, Nate Ness and Jason Phillips are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

New Orleans Saints. Jermon Bushrod, Jonathan Casillas, Chase Daniel, Sedrick Ellis, Devery Henderson, Ramon Humber, Elbert Mack, Turk McBride, Will Robinson, Courtney Roby and Scott Shanle can become unrestricted free agents. Brian De La Puente, Justin Drescher, Junior Galette and Chris Ivory are scheduled to become restricted free agents. Eric Olsen and Michael Higgins can become exclusive-rights free agents.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Ronde Barber, Dallas Clark, Michael Bennett, E.J. Biggers, Andrew Economos, Roy Miller, Roscoe Parrish, Sammie Stroughter and Jeremy Trueblood can become unrestricted free agents. LeGarrette Blount, Jacob Cutrera, Corvey Irvin and Daniel Te’o-Nesheim are scheduled to become restricted free agents.

Looking at Saints' offensive snaps

February, 12, 2013
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Aside from right tackle, where a series of injuries forced many changes, the New Orleans Saints' offensive line was exceptionally durable in the 2012 season.

Guard Ben Grubbs and center Brian De La Puente each took part in all 1,107 of New Orleans’ offensive plays. Guard Jahri Evans missed two plays and left tackle Jermon Bushrod missed four.

Here’s the percentage breakdown of playing time for the rest of the New Orleans offense:

Looking at New Orleans' free agents

February, 11, 2013
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Time to continue our look at the NFC South’s potential free agents with the New Orleans Saints.

Their list includes left tackle Jermon Bushrod, linebacker Jonathan Casillas, backup quarterback Chase Daniel, defensive tackle Sedrick Ellis, receiver Devery Henderson, linebacker Ramon Humber, cornerback Elbert Mack, defensive end Turk McBride, tackle Will Robinson, receiver Courtney Roby and linebacker Scott Shanle. Center Brian De La Puente, center Justin Drescher, defensive end Junior Galette and running back Chris Ivory can be restricted free agents. Safety Rafael Bush, guard Eric Olsen and tight end Michael Higgins can be exclusive-rights free agents.

The big names are Bushrod, who has made himself into a Pro Bowler, and Ellis, a former first-round pick. Although the Saints have major salary-cap issues, they are likely to at least make an attempt to keep Bushrod. But it’s important to remember the Saints aren’t like most other teams when it comes to their philosophy on paying offensive linemen. They have a history of paying more to guards (see Jahri Evans and Ben Grubbs) than they do to tackles and Bushrod could get big money on the open market.

Ellis never has lived up to his draft status and, with the Saints switching to a 3-4 defense, I’m not sure he’s a good fit for the scheme.

Henderson and Shanle used to be key players. But age started to catch up to them last season and I don’t see the Saints making a big push to keep them.

Inactives for the New Orleans Saints

November, 29, 2012
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ATLANTA – It appears as if Zach Strief will start at right tackle for the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.

Strief, who had been out with a groin injury, is on the active list.

The inactives for the Saints are receiver Courtney Roby, safety Isa Abdul-Quddus, linebacker Scott Shanle, tackle Charles Brown, tight end David Thomas, defensive end Junior Galette and defensive tackle Tom Johnson.

Surprises among Saints' captains

September, 3, 2012
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The New Orleans Saints elected their season captains Monday.

One won’t surprise you a bit. Quarterback Drew Brees is a captain (as well as a New Orleans icon and unofficial member of the coaching staff).

But the list of captains was made up of two offensive players, two defensive players and one from special teams and I think they’re somewhat telling.

Right tackle Zach Strief was selected as the other offensive captain. I think this shows how far Strief has come. He joined the Saints in 2006 and was almost entirely a backup until starting 11 games last year. Looks like Strief has done a good job of gaining the respect of his teammates.

The defensive captains are safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper. In addition to being captains, they have one other distinction. They each went through last season without an interception. I think the fact they were elected captains shows their teammates think the safeties will take on more important roles with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.

Receiver/return man Courtney Roby was elected as the captain for special teams.

Observation deck: Saints-Titans

August, 30, 2012
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Some quick observations from the Saints' 10-6 loss to the Tennessee Titans in Thursday night's preseason finale:
  • Assistant head coach Joe Vitt went almost exclusively with backups, which isn’t at all surprising when you consider the Saints were playing their fifth preseason game, including the Hall of Fame Game. The Saints started third-string quarterback Sean Canfield. He is a long way from being Drew Brees and even backup Chase Daniel, but Canfield looked better than I’ve ever seen him in practice and previous preseason games. Canfield did turn the ball over a couple of times, but I think he at least made a case for the Saints to keep him around.
  • I think a lot of people thought third-round defensive tackle Akiem Hicks would be a project because he played his college football in Canada. I think a lot of people might have sold Hicks short. He continues to impress. He sacked Jake Locker in the first quarter. It’s pretty obvious Hicks has earned a spot in the rotation behind starters Brodrick Bunkley and Sedrick Ellis. You could even look a year ahead and perhaps picture Hicks as a starter because Ellis’ contract is up after this season and the Saints will have a tight salary-cap situation in 2013.
  • Receiver Joseph Morgan continues to look good. I think he probably holds the edge on rookie Nick Toon for the No. 4 receiver spot (I count Courtney Roby, a return man) as the fifth receiver. That makes you wonder if the Saints will keep six receivers on the roster. My guess is they will. Toon’s a guy they were high on before his preseason got interrupted by an injury. Toon’s healthy now and I don’t think he’s a guy you want to risk losing by releasing him and hoping to get him back on the practice squad.
  • The competition for the fourth running back spot remains close between Chris Ivory and Travaris Cadet. But I think Ivory might have gained a bit of ground in this game because Cadet lost a fumble.
  • A lot of people were stunned when safety Isa Abdul-Quddus made the team last year. I was one of them, but I’m starting to see why now. Quddus knocked a ball loose in the second quarter and Elbert Mack recovered the fumble. Quddus already has established a role as a special-teams player. But I think he’s turning into a solid backup at safety, and somewhere in the future he could end up starting.

NFC South afternoon update

August, 14, 2012
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Let's take an afternoon run through the headlines from around the NFC South:
  • Although his stock might have dropped as he missed some earlier camp time with an injury, I think it’s fair to say Carolina rookie cornerback Josh Norman is back in the mix for a starting job. The Panthers desperately want one of their young cornerbacks to step up so that Captain Munnerlyn can move inside and match up with slot receivers. Norman stepped up big in Tuesday’s practice, producing four interceptions.
  • Tuesday was even hotter than usual in the New Orleans area. That resulted in linebacker Curtis Lofton, running back Pierre Thomas, left tackle Jermon Bushrod and receiver Courtney Roby having to leave practice after experiencing problems with the heat.
  • D. Orlando Ledbetter has a couple of tidbits that a lot of people might not know or might have forgotten about. Atlanta undrafted rookie quarterback Dominique Davis previously spent time with starter Matt Ryan. Davis was going through a redshirt season at Boston College when Ryan was in his final season there. Davis left for junior college and then ended up at East Carolina. In junior college, Davis’ team lost the national championship game to Cam Newton’s team. After watching Davis in camp, I think he at least has a shot at a spot on the practice squad. He has some upside. I’m not sure that John Parker Wilson, who has spent the past three seasons with the Falcons, has any remaining upside.
  • Tampa Bay receiver Mike Williams made the play of the day during a two-minute drill. Rookie safety Mark Barron appeared to be in the process of intercepting a Josh Freeman pass. But Williams wrapped his hands around Barron and came away with the ball. Williams talked after practice about how he’s paying more attention to detail this year. I’m not sure Williams would have had the awareness to make that catch last year.

NFC South Preseason Stock Watch

August, 13, 2012
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All four NFC South teams now have played a preseason game and the New Orleans Saints have played two. That’s given us a chance to see which players seem to be on the rise and which seem to be falling. Let’s take a look:

FALLING

Chris Ivory, Saints. New Orleans already had a wealth of riches at running back entering training camp. Now, the Saints look deeper than ever with undrafted rookie Travaris Cadet having a very nice preseason. Ivory entered camp clearly as the fourth running back. But Cadet has made that a little murky. Cadet has shown he can run and catch the ball and pass protect. He also has return skills, which make him more versatile. Maybe the Saints keep Ivory and try to stash Cadet on the practice squad. But that would be a risky tactic because 31 other teams have been watching tape of his preseason.

Akeem Dent, Falcons. Dent probably still will end up as the opening-day starter at middle linebacker after playing almost exclusively on special teams last season, though he needs all the practice time he can get to get used to his new role. But a concussion suffered in the preseason opener means Dent will miss some practice and probably a preseason game or two.

[+] EnlargeLeGarrette Blount
AP Photo/Alan DiazThe work LeGarrette Blount has put into his game showed during Friday's game against Miami.
Mike Pollak, Panthers. Although they didn’t pay him big money, the Panthers did go out and sign Pollak in free agency. The thinking was that he could start at guard or, at very least, be one of the top backup offensive linemen. But rookie Amini Silatolu seems destined to start at guard. Pollak has been banged up and hasn’t been a factor in training camp. Bruce Campbell, another free-agent pickup, can play both guard and tackle. Pollak might not even make the roster.

RISING

LeGarrette Blount, Buccaneers. You have to give the running back a ton of credit for the way he’s handled every challenge the Bucs have thrown at him. Some thought Blount would fold the tent after the Bucs used a first-round draft pick on Doug Martin, and that he might not even last until the regular season. But Blount has worked on his ball security, pass-catching and blocking -- and it showed in the first preseason game. Obviously, the Bucs have big plans for Martin. But Blount, who still might be one miscue away from being gone, has done everything right so far and that means he could have a fairly prominent role in this backfield.

Matt Ryan and Julio Jones, Falcons. The quarterback and receiver were spectacular in the preseason opener. They played only a quarter, but put up big numbers and showed explosiveness. If they can continue that into the regular season, new offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter is going to look like a genius.

Courtney Roby, Saints. He’s been on the roster since 2008, mainly as a special-teams player. But Roby is making an impact as a receiver this summer. He has nine catches in two preseason games. Adrian Arrington and Nick Toon, who have been banged up, were supposed to be the favorites to be the fourth receiver. But it looks like Roby might have moved ahead of them. For that matter, Andy Tanner also might have edged ahead of Arrington and Toon.

Around the NFC South

April, 17, 2012
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Let's take a look at some of the top headlines from around the division.

The Falcons are without a first-round draft pick. That means you can expect plenty of criticism of last year’s trade to move up and get receiver Julio Jones between now and the draft. It’s understandable, as the Falcons are sitting there with needs on the offensive and defensive lines, and needs for depth in other areas. But I can’t say the trade to get Jones was a mistake. He showed plenty of promise in his rookie season, and could end up being one of the league’s top receivers. No doubt the cost was high, but it’s too early in Jones’ career to say the Falcons gave up too much to get him.

Carolina quarterback Cam Newton has said he expects major improvement over a debut season in which he won Offensive Rookie of the Year. Head over to SportsNation to vote on how much you think Newton will improve.

Jordan Gross’ high school in Idaho will get some new weight-room equipment, courtesy of the Carolina offensive tackle.

Here’s a list of five first-round draft prospects for the Panthers. I’d add Mississippi State defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and Boston college linebacker Luke Kuechly to that list. I’d also scratch Stanford guard David DeCastro from that list. He’s a great prospect, but I can’t see the Panthers using a top-10 pick on a guard.

There’s been wide-spread speculation that middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma will face a suspension when the NFL hands out player punishments for the Saints’ bounty program. Although the league has said anywhere from 22 to 27 players were involved in a three-season span, there hasn’t been much speculation about which other players could face suspensions. Until now. Safety Roman Harper and defensive end Will Smith are mentioned as possible candidates in this report.

Jeff Schultz takes New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees to task for not acknowledging the existence of a bounty program.

After going through the first day of the offseason program, New Orleans cornerback Jabari Greer talked about the strength of the Saints’ locker room, and how that should help the team with the adversity it faces in the aftermath of the bounty program. He's got a point. Although it was clear there was some friction between coach Sean Payton and former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the chemistry among the New Orleans players has always been a big positive in recent years.

The Saints have re-signed special-teams player/receiver Courtney Roby. They also released linebacker Jeremiha Hunter.

Gary Shelton runs through the argument that is consuming Tampa Bay fans -- should the Bucs take LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne or Alabama running back Trent Richardson with the No. 5 overall pick? It’s a tough call, and I don’t think the Bucs would be making a huge mistake by going either way. I lean slightly toward Claiborne, because the trending wisdom in the NFL is that you don’t draft a running back early in the first round. Then again, the way coach Greg Schiano has been talking, his offensive system might make running back a more important position than it is for most other teams.

Saints: First look at free agency

January, 31, 2012
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No NFC South team faces a more challenging period between now and the start of free agency than the New Orleans Saints.

They have to find a way to re-sign quarterback Drew Brees, and there are at least a couple other players that it’s essential the Saints retain. They’ve also got some important role players and will need to find ways to keep several of them despite a difficult salary-cap situation.

Let’s take a look at New Orleans’ potential free agents. They’re all unrestricted, unless noted otherwise:

Brees, defensive end Jeff Charleston, receiver Marques Colston, linebacker Jo-Lonn Dunbar, defensive tackle Aubrayo Franklin, tight end John Gilmore, tight end Tory Humphrey, kicker John Kasay, defensive end Turk McBride, offensive lineman Pat McQuistan, receiver Robert Meachem, guard Carl Nicks, cornerback Tracy Porter, receiver/return man Courtney Roby, defensive tackle Shaun Rogers, cornerback Leigh Torrence, safety Jonathon Amaya (exclusive rights), receiver Adrian Arrington (exclusive rights), center Brian de la Puente (exclusive rights), offensive lineman Justin Drescher (exclusive rights), linebacker Jonathan Casillas (restricted), quarterback Chase Daniel (restricted) and linebacker Ramon Humber (restricted).

Whatever deal Brees signs, it’s likely he’ll take up somewhere around $15 million of the 2012 salary cap. But the Saints will have to continue to spend big money. It’s imperative they keep Nicks. He might be the best guard in the league and he’s Brees’ top protector. Keeping Colston also would seem to be a top priority because he’s one of Brees’ favorite targets.

Once the accounting is done on Brees, Nicks and Colston, the Saints will have to make some tough financial decisions. Porter and Meachem are important role players. But they could have market value elsewhere. The Saints might not be able to afford to keep them. That would hurt, but it might not be disastrous because the Saints have good depth at receiver and cornerback.

NFC South players not signed for 2012

December, 22, 2011
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A lot can change between now and the start of free agency and I sure don’t see any way the New Orleans Saints let quarterback/King Drew Brees walk away. I also think there’s a pretty good chance tight end Tony Gonzalez can return to the Atlanta Falcons if he chooses. Same for cornerback Ronde Barber with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and maybe even Jeremy Shockey with the Carolina Panthers.

But all we know about those guys at the moment is they’re not under contract for 2012. We’ll do much more on free agency as it gets closer but I’ve got the complete list of every NFC South player presently not under contract for 2012.

I’ll list them by team here and we’ll only go with the guys who have at least four years of service and can become unrestricted free agents. We’ll deal with restricted and exclusive-rights free agents at another time.

Atlanta Falcons: Tony Gonzalez, tight end; Reggie Kelly, tight end; Todd McClure, center; Mike Peterson, linebacker; John Abraham, defensive end; Joe Zelenka, long-snapper; Chris Redman, quarterback; Kirk Chambers, offensive line; Kelvin Hayden, cornerback; Brett Romberg, offensive line; James Sanders, safety; Jason Snelling, running back; Kroy Biermann, defensive end; Thomas DeCoud, safety; Harry Douglas, receiver; Brent Grimes, cornerback; Curtis Lofton, linebacker; Eric Weems, receiver.

Carolina Panthers: Jeremy Shockey, tight end; Reggie Wells, offensive line; Derek Anderson, quarterback; Geoff Hangartner, center/guard; Omar Gaither, linebacker; Cletis Gordon, cornerback; Legedu Naanee, receiver; Antwan Applewhite, linebacker; Mackenzy Beranadeau, offensive line; Dan Connor, linebacker; J.J. Jansen, long-snapper; Jerome Felton, fullback; Jordan Senn, linebacker.

New Orleans Saints: John Kasay, kicker; Drew Brees, quarterback; Shaun Rogers, defensive tackle; John Gilmore, tight end; Aubrayo Franklin, defensive tackle; Marques Colston, receiver; Pat McQuistan, offensive line; Courtney Roby, receiver; Leigh Torrence, cornerback; Jeff Charleston, defensive end; Turk McBride, defensive end; Robert Meachem, receiver; Jo-Lonn Dunbar, linebacker; Carl Nicks, guard; Tracy Porter, cornerback.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Ronde Barber, cornerback; Earnest Graham, running back; Sean Jones, safety; Connor Barth, kicker; Geno Hayes, linebacker; Josh Johnson, quarterback; James Lee, offensive line; Corey Lynch, safety; Elbert Mack, cornerback; Frank Okam, defensive tackle; Micheal Spurlock, receiver; Jeremy Zuttah, offensive line.

Results in on Pro Bowl fan voting

December, 21, 2011
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The results of the fan voting for the Pro Bowl are in and the NFC South didn’t fare very well.

New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and strong safety Roman Harper were the only players to lead the NFC at their positions. New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees finished third overall in league-wide voting, but Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers was the league’s top vote-getter.

Fan voting counts for one-third of the final tally. Votes from coaches and players make up the rest. The Pro Bowl rosters will be announced Tuesday night.

I was able to obtain the top five in fan voting at each position and I’ll run down the NFC South representatives. Carolina rookie quarterback Cam Newton was third behind Rodgers and Brees.

Atlanta’s Michael Turner was No. 5 among running backs and New Orleans’ Jed Collins was No. 3 among fullbacks.

Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez was second to Graham among tight ends and Carolina’s Steve Smith was fourth among receivers.

New Orleans’ Jahri Evans was third among guards and teammate Brian de la Puente was No. 4 among centers.

On defense, Atlanta’s Sean Weatherspoon (No. 5 at outside linebacker) was the only NFC South player besides Harper to finish in the top five.

New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead finished fifth, return man Darren Sproles was No. 4 and Courtney Roby was No. 5 among special-teams players.

NFC South Pro Bowl voting is light

December, 14, 2011
12/14/11
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The fan portion of Pro Bowl voting comes to an end Monday, and the NFC South isn’t faring well so far.

Fan vote counts as one third, with players and coaches each taking up a third. Here’s a link to go cast your ballot before the deadline.

But, as of the moment, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham and strong safety Roman Harper would be the only NFC South starters. I’ve obtained a list of the top five vote getters at each position and it’s light on NFC South representation.

Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers is running away with the voting for the NFC quarterback. But New Orleans’ Drew Brees is No. 2 and Carolina rookie Cam Newton is No. 3.

Atlanta’s Michael Turner is No. 5 at running back and New Orleans’ Jed Collins is third at fullback. Graham leads the tight ends, but Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez is No. 2.

The only other NFC South players in the top five on offense are Carolina receiver Steve Smith (No. 3), New Orleans guard Jahri Evans (No. 4) and New Orleans center Brian de la Puente (No. 5).

Aside from Harper, the only other NFC South player in the top five at any position is Atlanta’s Sean Weatherspoon. He’s No. 5 among outside linebackers.

New Orleans kicker Thomas Morstead is No. 5, return man Darren Sproles is No. 4 and Courtney Roby is No. 5 in the special-teams category.

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