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Ranking the SEC’s special teams: Tennessee is No. 1

KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS
KIM KLEMENT/USA TODAY SPORTS

We conclude our SEC unit rankings with a look at special teams. In a league that has numerous stars, it should be no surprise that the SEC has a kicker, a handful of punters and a few return men who are among the best in the nation.

We have ranked the SEC’s special teams from first through 14th; here they are in reverse order. This is the seventh part of our position-ranking series; offensive backfields are here, receiving corps are here, offensive lines are here, defensive lines are here, linebacker corps are here and secondaries are here.

14. Vanderbilt

The skinny: K Tommy Openshaw is nothing special. He may double as the punter again, but there's a chance it could be true freshman Sam Loy. The return teams were mediocre and the punt coverage team was awful, allowing two TDs. The kickoff-coverage unit was good, though.

13. Kentucky

The skinny: K Austin MacGinnis is good. But there will be a new punter, and the coverage and return teams were mediocre. UK allowed both a punt-return and kickoff-return TD last season.

Corey Fatony, a rare scholarship recipient among Mizzou special teamers, was one of the Tigers' best players in 2015. COURTESY MISSOURI ATHLETICS

Corey Fatony, a rare scholarship recipient among Mizzou special teamers, was one of the Tigers' best players in 2015. COURTESY MISSOURI ATHLETICS

12. Missouri

The skinny: P Corey Fatony is a good one; he averaged 42.9 yards per punt as a true freshman last season and just three of his 81 attempts were touchbacks. But Mizzou is searching for a new kicker; the Tigers also could use new return men, as those units were mediocre last season. And the kickoff coverage was atrocious: Mizzou allowed a league-worst 26.5 yards per kick return.

11. Texas A&M

The skinny: A&M had one of the best kicker-punter duos in the nation last season, but K Taylor Bertolet and P Drew Kaser are gone. PR Christian Kirk is tremendous. The kickoff coverage was good, too. But the Aggies could use a new kick returner and better punt coverage.

10. LSU

The skinny: The Tigers were embarrassingly bad on punt coverage last season; it's unfathomable how a roster filled with big-time athletes can allow a staggering 18.9 yards per punt return, with one TD. The kickoff coverage was shaky at times, too, and LSU also surrendered a kick-return TD. LSU needs a new punter, and the kicker will be Colby Delahoussaye, who handled the job in 2013 and '14, but did not play last season. There has to be some concern regarding Delaoussaye's psyche, as he was involved in a car wreck in July that killed two others in the car. LSU's return units are good

9. Georgia

The skinny: Georgia needs a new kicker. Brice Ramsey and Collin Barber shared punting duties last season, but Barber is gone. If Ramsey is heavily involved in the quarterback battle, will coaches want him punting? The punt coverage unit was solid, the kick coverage unit adequate. WR Isaiah McKenzie is a standout punt returner. Will he handle kick-return duties, too?

8. Arkansas

The skinny: P Toby Baker is adequate, but K Cole Hedlund must improve. The Hogs have good return teams, and the punt-coverage unit was top-notch last season. The kick-coverage unit was solid for the most part, though it did allow a TD return.

Florida's Johnny Townsend might be the best punter in the SEC. He was the main reason the Gators led the SEC in net punting in 2015. TIM CASEY/FLORIDA ATHLETICS

Florida's Johnny Townsend might be the best punter in the SEC. He was the main reason the Gators led the SEC in net punting in 2015. TIM CASEY/FLORIDA ATHLETICS

7. Ole Miss

The skinny: There is a solid kicker-punter duo with K Gary Wunderlich and P Will Gleeson; Wunderlich hit 19 field goals last season and Gleeson helped Ole Miss finish second in the league in net punting. The kickoff coverage was good, too. The return games, though, need help; both were below-average last season, surprising given the athleticism on the roster.

6. Florida

The skinny: P Johnny Townsend might be the league's best; he has a strong leg (45.4 yards per punt on a league-high 84 attempts), gets excellent hang time, is a good directional punter and had just five touchbacks. WR Antonio Callaway is a high-level punt returner; he took two back for TDs last season, including against Alabama in the SEC championship game. JC transfer Eddy Pineiro, he of the 77-yard field goal on YouTube, is expected to solve the kicking woes. How bad were Florida's kickers last season? The Gators missed five extra-point attempts. The kickoff-coverage unit is adequate, and who will return kicks is a question.

5. Alabama

The skinny: Alabama's punt-coverage unit was shaky, allowing two TDs and 10.3 yards per return. The kickoff coverage was quite good, though. K Adam Griffith was inconsistent, but he does have a strong leg and hit 23 field goals; in addition, 55 of his 100 kickoffs were touchbacks. P J.K. Scott led the league's punters in net average, but the Tide was just eighth in the league in net punting. Alabama needs a new punt returner; the Tide will miss CB Cyrus Jones, who had four punt-return TDs last season. A new kick returner also is needed.

Auburn's Daniel Carlson is the best kicker in the SEC, and he should be a leading contender to win the Groza Award as the nation's top kicker. JOHN DAVID MERCER/USA TODAY SPORTS

Auburn's Daniel Carlson is the best kicker in the SEC, and he should be a leading contender to win the Groza Award as the nation's top kicker. JOHN DAVID MERCER/USA TODAY SPORTS

4. Mississippi State

The skinny: K Westin Graves is steady, though he does not have a big leg. P Logan Cooke does have a strong leg, but the punt-coverage unit was poor, which hurt the Bulldogs' net punting average. The kickoff-coverage unit, on the other hand, was the best in the league. Brandon Holloway is a good kick returner; the same goes for Fred Ross as a punt returner. Both had TDs as return men last season.

3. Auburn

The skinny: K Daniel Carlson is the best in the SEC; he was 23-of-27 on field goals, with a long of 56, and 49 of his 69 kickoffs were touchbacks. He should legitimately be in the hunt for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's best kicker. P Kevin Phillips is solid. Just seven of his 55 punts were returned last season – but the coverage unit had issues, as those seven returns went for 87 yards (12.4 yards per return) and a TD. The kickoff-coverage unit must improve, too. S Rudy Ford was one of the best kick returners in the league, and WR Marcus Davis was a solid punt returner.

2. South Carolina

The skinny: The Gamecocks' roster is lacking in talent, but in K Elliott Fry and P Sean Kelly, Will Muschamp has two specialists he can count on. Fry has a good leg and nailed a 52-yarder last season. Kelly averaged an impressive 44.3 yards per punt and dropped almost half of his attempts (25 of 55) inside the 20, with four touchbacks. Both coverage units were good, and CB Rashad Fenton was a dangerous kick returner last season. The Gamecocks are looking for a new punt returner.

1. Tennessee

The skinny: The Vols have the best return duo in the nation. S Evan Berry was phenomenal as a kick returner last season, averaging a nation's-best 38.3 yards on his 21 returns, with three TDs. His average was almost 5 full yards better than the second-place finisher. And CB Cam Sutton was an extremely dangerous punt returner, averaging 18.7 yards on his 25 returns, with two scores. P Trevor Daniel was second in the league with a 45.7-yard average, but the Vols were sixth in the league in net punting because the punt-coverage unit was shaky at times. The kickoff-coverage unit, on the other hand, was stellar. K Aaron Medley slumped a bit from his freshman season, but he has a good leg and hit 21 field goals last fall.

RELATED: The SEC's top 50 players in 2016

(You can follow Mike Huguenin on Twitter @MikeHuguenin)

© 2016, Mike Huguenin. All rights reserved.

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