Top Five NFL Special Teamers Of All Time
These men are the unsung heroes of the forgotten part of most teams. Today, I rank the top five special teams players in NFL history. I won’t be including kickers or punters, as that is a list for another day.
5. Larry Izzo
He has more special teams tackles than any player in history.
After going undrafted in 1996 due to his size, Larry Izzo signed with the Miami Dolphins. He gained notoriety early when head coach Jimmy Johnson told the team that only two players were guaranteed to make the team; one was future Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino and the other the then unknown Izzo. He set his career hig in special teams tackles in 1999 with 33 then made his firs Pro Bowl the following year. In 2001, he signed with division rival New England where he helped the Patriots win their first three Super Bowls. In his 14 seasons, he never played on a team with a losing record and was a team captain for eight consecutive seasons. He retired following the 2009 season with the Jets after suffering a spine injury.
Izzo was a three time Pro Bowler, a 2004 first team All-Pro, three time Super Bowl Champion, and retired with an NFL record 298 special teams tackles. Post retirement, he moved into coaching special teams where he helped the New York Giants upset his former team in Super Bowl XLVI.
4. Bill Bates
He is the reason their is a slot for special teams players at the Pro Bowl.
Going undrafted in 1983 because of a poor NFL Combine performance, Bill Bates chose to sign with the Dallas Cowboys; which was his favorite team growing up. A long shot to even make the team, he became a star on special teams and was named the NFC special teams player of the year as a rookie. The following season, he was named All-Pro and a Pro Bowler causing the NFL to place a permanent roster spot for special teams gunners at the Pro Bowl. Bates also saw considerable playing time on defense at strong safety and in nickel packages. After injuring his knee in 1992, he came back in 1993 to lea the team with 25 special teams tackles and received the Ed Block Courage Award. His 15 seasons are tied with Ed "Too Tall" Jones and Mark Tuinei for the most years in a Cowboys uniform. He was considered one of the most beloved Cowboys of all time for his toughness and style of play.
Bates retired after the 1997 season as a 1984 Pro Bowler and All-Pro, three time Super Bowl Champion, and finished with 216 career special teams tackles along with 14 interceptions and 122 return yards.
3. Hank Bauer
"Hank the Howitzer" was in a lot of ways the OG special teams player.
An undrafted running back in 1976, Hank Bauer signed with the Dallas Cowboys but was cut three weeks into training camp. He then signed with the San Diego Chargers in 1977 where he was mainly used as a short yardage specialist. He even hold one of the most obscure records in NFL history by rushing for three touchdowns on four carries while gaining just one net yard. When the team acquired Chuck Muncie in 1980, Bauer was regulated to special teams where he made just as much an impact. In 1981, he recorded 52 special teams tackles which remains an NFL record. He was forced to retire in 1983 after it was discovered he had been playing six games with a broken neck.
In his seven seasons with the Chargers, Bauer was a two time team special teams MVP, was named to the Chargers all time Anniversary Teams, and also recorded 20 total touchdowns on offense (17 rushing, three receiving.)
2. Matthew Slater
His father is a Hall of Fame offensive lineman, but he has carved out his own legacy on special teams.
A fifth round pick in 2008 by New England, Matthew Slater began his career returning kicks and as a gunner. By 2010, he was leading the Patriots in special teams tackles. The following year he saw playing time at all three phases of the game as a wide receiver in the team's opener, started three games at safety, and was named to his first Pro Bowl as a special teams player. In 2019, he scored his first career touchdown on a blocked punt return.
In his 12 seasons in New England, Slater has been a seven time Pro Bowler, five time All-Pro, three time Super Bowl Champion, and continues to exemplify character and leadership on and off the field.
1. Steve Tasker
He is universally seen as the best special teamer of all time.
A ninth round pick by the Houston Oilers in 1985, Steve Tasker was mainly used as a reserve before being released in 1986. He was then claimed by the Buffalo Bills and took on the role as gunner on special teams. Tasker instantly made an impact on special teams despite his small 5'9", 185 pound frame. He quickly gained a reputation for being a fierce tackler forcing many fumbles on punt and kick coverage. He also had a knack for blocking punts and returning kicks on the Bills hands teams. Tasker was named to seven Pro Bowls and five All-Pro teams in his career and was even named the MVP of the Pro Bowl in 1993 while helping the team to four straight Super Bowl appearances. He was also an impact on offense averaging 15 yards per catch and 9 touchdowns in his career. Bills quarterback Jim Kelly lobbied head coach Marv Levy to allow Tasker to play wide receiver more but Levy said he was needed more on special teams. Hall of Fame head coach Bill Parcells even told Levy that he had to game plan around Tasker. He retired following the 1997 season with 186 career special teams tackles.
With the induction of punter Ray Guy in 2014 and kicker Morten Anderson in 2017, the door is now open for a special teamer to be inducted in Canton. Tasker is widely considered to be the greatest gunner/ special teamer to ever play and his play should be recognized by the Hall of Fame.