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Philadelphia Eagles special teams unit ranks as NFL's best in 2014

No surprise here.

Evan Habeeb/Getty Images

Each year, Rick Gosselin of The Dallas Morning News releases rankings of NFL special teams units from the past season. Gosselin's rankings take 22 different categories into consideration. The Eagles finished all the way up top at No. 1. That's a big improvement from where the Eagles ranked in Gosselin's 2013 rankings.

While it's certainly impressive, this ranking hardly comes as a surprise. The Eagles were downright dominant on special teams in 2014. Gosselin notes how Kelly's commitment to special teams paid off:

"Philadelphia finished 18th in the NFL in special teams in 2013, so Kelly undertook a sweeping upgrade last offseason.

Kelly traded for returner Darren Sproles and kicker Cody Parkey and signed a pair of special­-teams coverage aces in free agency, Bryan Braman from the Texans and Chris Maragos from the Seahawks. Kelly also hit on undrafted college free­agent Trey Burton and street free­agent Chris Prosinski for his coverage units.

The changes were dramatic. The Eagles vaulted all the way to the top of the league in special teams, finishing first in the 2014 NFL special­-teams rankings compiled annually by The Dallas Morning News.

Sproles returned punts for touchdowns against San Francisco (82 yards) and Carolina (65 yards) and was named to the Pro Bowl team. Parkey led the NFC in scoring with 150 points, converting 32 of his 36 field­-goal tries and all 54 of his extra­point attempts.

The Eagles tied an NFL record with seven special­-teams touchdowns and also blocked a league­high six kicks, including two apiece by Brandon Bair and James Casey. Three blocked punts by coach Dave Fipp’s units were returned for Philadelphia touchdowns by Maragos, Burton and Brad Smith. Maragos led the Eagles with 14 tackles in coverage, followed by Casey with 13, Nolan Carroll with 11 and Braman with eight. Carroll also chipped in a fumble recovery.

To compile the rankings, Gosselin uses the following stats: Kickoff return, punt return, kickoff coverage, punt coverage, average starting field position after kickoff, opponent's average starting field position after kickoff, punting, net punting, inside-the-20 punts, opponent's punting, opponent's net punting, field goals, field goal percentage, opponent's field goal percentage, extra point percentage, points scored, points allowed, blocked kicks, blocked kicks allowed, takeaways, giveaways and penalties.

Looking back to last July, it looks like my prediction for a top 10 unit was a little too modest. Philadelphia's excellent special teams unit masked the issues of a struggling offense that led the NFL in turnovers. The Eagles won't be able to rely on the kind of production they received from special teams in 2014, but due to Kelly's emphasis on the position it should continue to be one of the better units in the league.

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