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The Buccaneers have to massively improve their special teams

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Perusing the web on yet another slow offseason in the NFL and I find this nugget on ESPN. Although the thoughts around K Roberto Aguayo have been kicked to proverbial death, I am always looking out for other aspects that might help bridge gaps for the acquisition as well as trading up for Aguayo.

ESPN has their own metric called Expected Points (EP) and Expected Points Added (EPA). Then they continue to break down these metrics, which includes an Special Teams EPA (STEPA). What they found about the Bucs' STEPA is quite stunning.

Expected Points (EP)

Based on statistical analysis of 10 years of NFL play-by-play data, ESPN has created a formula that assigns an "expected points" value to the team with the ball at the start of each play based on the game situation. Expected points (EP) accounts for factors such as down, distance to go, field position, home-field advantage and time remaining.

Expected Points Added (EPA)

This difference in EP from one play to the next is called expected points added (EPA). Because of all it accounts for and its points scale, EPA is a very accurate measure of how each play affects potential changes on the scoreboard.

Bucs' Special Teams Expected Points Added (ST - EPA)

ESPN did a break down on the Bucs' special teams EPA and alluded to why kicker Roberto Aguayo could be a candidate for offensive rookie of the year.

The Buccaneers ranked last in the league in ESPN Stats & Information's special teams expected points added (STEPA) metric in 2015. STEPA measures the scoreboard impact of special-teams plays in an expected points framework. The league average here is 8.2, so Tampa Bay's minus-10.8 indicates the Buccaneers were 19 points below par.

Special Teams EPA
2015
Team ST - EPA ST - EPA (NE)
Bucs -10.8 -10.8
Average 8.2
Max (NE Patriots) 19
Difference 19 29.8

Just to get to league average, the difference is 19 ST-EPA points. That is a lot of metric points to make up.

Connor Barth was 82.1% on FG last year, ranking tied for 23rd, missing five field goal attempts. On extra points attempts, Barth was 96.2%, 14th overall, just by missing one extra point. This is not a drastic error at all. There were only six kickers who were prefect in extra points made last year.

Now let us factor in Kyle Brindza. Brindza missed six field goals and two extra point attempts.

That is a total of 11 missed field goals and 3 missed extra points. Although Brindza did miss six field goals, Barth missed five field goals. Granted, Aguayo did miss five field goals in his last year in the NCAA, but the caveat is the NCAA's hash marks are much wider than that of the NFL. This means from longer distances, the angle to make a field goal is less severe in the NFL. Licht is projecting that Aguayo makes those field goal attempts in the NFL.

For example, when playing billiards, the distance as well as the angle can affect a shot. When you have ball in hand, you rarely would pit yourself into a more severe angle than you need to for your shot.

Missing field goals is not the only factors to such a negative rating. The two other aspects to special teams are punting and kickoffs. According to Football Outsiders the average line of scrimmage per drive for the Bucs' defense was at the 29.88 yard line, ranking 31st in the league.


Punting

Tampa Bay Bucs
Punters on the Roster, 2015 Stats
Player Team Punts Avg Avg Rank IN20 IN20 % Ret Yd Avg Rank
Jacob Schum NYJ/TB 56 41.9 31st 15 26.79% 5.2 4th
Bryan Anger JAX 80 46.3 11th 26 32.50% 10.3 25th
http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/player/_/stat/punting/sort/avgPuntReturnYards/order/false

In the offseason, the Bucs signed FA punter Bryan Anger. Jacob Schum's inside the 20 yard line percentage is in the bottom of the league. We needed some upgrade in distance and inside the 20 yard line punts. There are many variables to punting because one does not know where exactly you are punting from in order to qualify for the inside the 20 yard line metric.

Kickoffs

The average return yards on kickoffs for Tampa Bay's Connor Barth last year was 25.6 yards. That does not sound too bad until you see where he is on the list.

NFL Kickoff Return Averages
2015
Rank Player Ret Yard Avg
1 Jordan Gay 16.7
2 Stephen Gostkowski 18.39
3 Pat McAfee 19.5
4 Dustin Hopkins 19.68
5 Josh Scobee 19.71
6 Josh Brown 20.28
7 Brandon McManus 20.38
8 Caleb Sturgis 20.5
9 Travis Coons 21.29
10 Cody Parkey 21.5
11 Chris Boswell 22.02
12 Kyle Brindza 22.4
13 Mike Nugent 22.63
14 Sebastian Janikowski 22.88
15 Nick Folk 23.17
16 Greg Zuerlein 23.27
17 Dan Bailey 23.87
18 Nick Novak 23.97
19 Jason Myers 24.04
20 Chandler Catanzaro 24.08
21 Andrew Franks 24.11
22 Randy Bullock 24.38
23 Cairo Santos 24.72
24 Bradley Pinion 25.05
25 Robbie Gould 25.21
26 Justin Tucker 25.44
27 Thomas Morstead 25.5
28 Steven Hauschka 25.63
29 Connor Barth 25.67
30 Sam Martin 26.28
31 Blair Walsh 26.59
32 Kai Forbath 26.67
33 graham gano 27.03
34 Mason Crosby 27.08
35 Matt Bosher 27.23
36 Ryan Succop 27.23
37 Zach Hocker 27.33
38 Josh Lambo 27.9
http://www.footballdb.com/stats/stats.html?lg=NFL&yr=2015&type=reg&mode=O&conf=&limit=all&sort=kotb

Connor Barth had 32 touchbacks and 30 kickoffs returned. With that return yards average, it would be more prudent to get touchbacks than to have the other team return it.

Here is what transpired at FSU's pro day with Roberto Aguayo kicking, as reported by Palm Beach Post's Tom D'Angelo:

Aguayo had another good day in front of the scouts. He missed just two field goal attempts, and all of his kickoffs sailed out of the end zone. He was pleased with his day and continued to call himself the top kicker available in the draft. He is hoping to be selected in the second round.

Already, Aguayo is a massive improvement over Connor Barth at kickoffs as "all of his kickoffs sailed out of the endzone". The return yards average on 100% touchbacks is zero.

Opposing offenses Starting Line of Scrimmage (LOS) on Kickoffs

Total defensive LOS average is the 29.88 yard line, ranking 31st in the league. The factors for the total average LOS would be punting, kickoffs, and turnovers, as I was reminded by Marchant Warchant.

Kickoff Average LOS in 2015
Touchback v Return
Attempts Avg Yds/Att Total Total Avg Ave Starting LOS on kickoffs (Per FO)
Touchback 32 20 640
Return 30 25.66 770
Total 62 1410 22.74 22.12
Note:  The Bucs did two onsides kick.
FO = Football Outsiders

The LOS after a kickoff average is the 22.12 yard line, ranking 19th in the league. So I did a break down on some numbers.  As you can tell, the average per return is 25.66 yards.

The best LOS after a kickoff average is 20.07 yards by the Buffalo Bills. Buffalo has 42 touchbacks and 33 returned kickoff returns.  K Jordan Gray had a total of 550 yards returned on 33 kickoff returns. That equates to 16.69 yards average on kickoff returns.  Buffalo uses Gray as its kickoff specialist. They have a separate punter and FG kicker, Colton Schmidt and Dan Carpenter, respectively.

Last season, Aguayo had 33 kickoffs returned for 557 yards. That equates to 16.87 yards.  Aguayo can do both functions that Buffalo is employing to two different positions, taking up a valuable roster spot on gameday.

Kicking Opportunites

According to SportingCharts.com, the Bucs had the fewest punt opportunities in the whole league with 56 punts! The average is 3.5 punts per game.

According to teamrankings.com, the Bucs averaged 5.1 kickoffs per game. That would rank the Bucs at 17th overall.

The higher volume of kickoffs compared to punting implies that kickoffs have a higher determinant in the opposing offenses starting line of scrimmage.

Kickoff Return and Punt Return

TB Bucs Special Teams 2015
KO and Punt Return stats
Return Avg Rank Max Min Avg Diff
KO Ret 24.1 15th 28.3 18.5 23.3 0.8
Punt Ret 9.9 9th 11.6 4.2 8.4 1.5
http://espn.go.com/nfl/statistics/team/_/stat/returning/sort/yardsPerPuntReturn

With positive ratings above the average, we can exclude the return game from the equation as to why the Bucs' special teams rated far, far below the average STEPA metric and down past the depth of Davey Jones' locker.

Conclusion

We fans are not privy to the ever growing metrics for the NFL. Although analytical metrics are not always exact, the compiling of the information does give us fans a roundabout gauge of production. In this case, ESPN has rated the Bucs' last in its special teams extra points added (STEPA) last. Not just last, but in the negative area and far removed from the average production.

The move to secure kicker Roberto Aguayo was based off of a major deficiency in our special teams. I can beat my chest all day long about metrics I have analyzed, but I am not ESPN, to where that entity carries much more weight.  ESPN has enlightened us on how deplorable our special teams play was last season.

There are four components to specials teams that involve kicking: field goal attempts, extra point attempts, kickoffs, and punting. Three of the four kicking components involve a place kicker.  We see a punter only 3.5 times per game, as recorded for last season for the Bucs. A Bucs' place kicker was seen at least 5.1 times on kickoffs, 2.8 times on extra points, and 2.5 times for field goal attempts.  With that stated, last year, a Bucs' place kicker was on the field 75% of all special teams kicking situations -€” situations to which the special teams can manipulate.

Improving on a place kicker is the fastest way to improve your special teams play. The Bucs have gone through Connor Barth, Lawrence Tynes, Rian Lindell, Patrick Murray, Kyle Brindza, and Connor Barth, once again, as place kickers in recent years. With the exception of last season, punter Michael Koenen handled kick off duties for all of the aforementioned kickers.

Apparently, kickers are readily available, but the past four years the Bucs have not had any consistency.  It is obvious with Barth last season, the Bucs still were abysmal in STEPA. Why take the chance of repeating a negative result? With one draft pick, the Bucs have possibly dramatically improved the worst of the three units on the football team last season between offense, defense, and special teams. Licht traded up for a player who can instantaneously increase the chances of winning by a wide margin with Aguayo than any of the draft picks the Buccaneers selected in the 2016 NFL draft.

Increasing the chances of winning is ultimately what every team is trying to accomplish in the offseason. The Los Angeles Rams and Philadelphia Eagles made massive trades to help increase their chances of winning because it was necessary to have a quarterback. With the pittance of a fourth round pick, the Bucs secured a player they were targeting because they probably had their own statisticians come up with a similar metric that ESPN had for the special teams EPA. The Bucs secured an impact player today; not hoping a fourth round player can develop years down the road. Licht and the Bucs want to win today.