It looks like the Patriots have compiled their young battery of specialists. Kicker Stephen Gostkowski has been a staple since 2006, and he's signed through 2014. Punter Zoltan Mesko, who's locked up through 2013, has emerged as one of the league's better players at the position, which has been a welcomed change for New England after struggling to find consistency out of its punters for several seasons. Ditto for long snapper Danny Aiken, who ended a similarly rough stretch for the Patriots at that position and is also in town through 2013.
Specialists on Final Roster: Stephen Gostkowski, Zoltan Mesko, Danny Aiken
Key Statistic: Gostkowski's 143 points this season were the third most in the NFL. He's got 712 points in his career, trailing Adam Vinatieri (1,158) and Gino Cappelletti (1,130) for the most in franchise history.
Hot Topic: Gostkowski has been one of the league's most prolific kickers since his rookie season in 2006, even if his numbers have been hurt by the Patriots' offensive success. In the last six years, his 712 points are the third most in the NFL, and he is tied for eighth with 141 field goals. His 84.4 percent conversion rate is also ninth among all kickers with at least 150 attempts in that span.
Gostkowski's value isn't limited to field goals, though. Bill Belichick often discusses the importance of angling kickoffs from a strategic point of view. It's one thing to just line up and smoke the ball through the end zone for a touchback, but when Belichick is confident in his kicker and the coverage unit, they can put on a play to force a return with the intention of pinning the other team inside the 20-yard line. That could explain why the Patriots ranked 20th in touchback percentage (39.4) despite having one of the league's most powerful kickers. They ranked sixth in the NFL by limiting opponents to 21.6 yards per return.
Offseason Question: How good is Mesko?
OK, so that's not much of a burning question, but there isn't much to go on with these three, who basically fly under the radar because of their consistency. Mesko has one of the strongest legs in the NFL, and he was tied for 10th in the league with an average of 46.5 yards per punt. He was third with a net average of 41.5 yards. Of Mesko's 57 punts, 24 were downed inside the 20 (42.1 percent), 18 were fair caught (31.6 percent), three were touchbacks (5.3 percent) and 26 were returned for an average of 8.5 yards.
The Patriots don't typically need to rely on Mesko to take over a game, but he is progressing into someone who could if called upon.
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