The impact of special teams is often overlooked in the recap of any football game, unless it pertains to a game-changing blunder. But the role of any NFL specialist is quite often integral to the outcome of a game.
There is no more obvious example of how vital a specialist, like a punter, can be to a team than with Andy Lee's importance to this year's San Francisco 49ers. Jim Harbaugh's offense, under the guidance of quarterback Alex Smith, would often see its drives stall while still inside 49ers' territory. So it was Lee's job to ensure that the opposing team didn't get the ball with favorable field position on the ensuing possession.
Lee responded to the weekly challenge by having by far his best season as a pro, posting a league-leading 50.9 yards per punt in 2011 as the 49ers went all the way to the NFC championship game. Lee received many kudos and was named to his third Pro Bowl (2007, 2009).
These accolades, paired with a spectacular season, make it no surprise that Lee was rated the No. 1 punter in the NFL in Bleacher Report's list of the league's 32 best.
Other players atop the list of punters were the San Diego Chargers' Mike Scifres (No.2), the Oakland Raiders' Shane Lechler (No. 3) and the Super Bowl champion New York Giants' Steve Weatherford (No. 10).
New England's golden toe Zoltan Mesko found himself unusually low on the list at No. 22, as it appears ranking third in the league in NET yards per punt (41.5) and a trip to the Super Bowl just aren't enough to get you into the top 20 these days.
Bleacher Report will continue its NFL 1,000 series, a ranking of the top 1,000 players in the NFL, on Wednesday by rating the league's best placekickers.
Photo via Facebook/Andy Lee