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Buffalo Bills specialists solid heading into 2018 training camp

The special teams unit improved dramatically this past season.

The Buffalo Bills’ kicking game struggled mightily in 2016, as kicker Dan Carpenter had a tough time converting point-after attempts into extra points. Punter Colton Schmidt had a rough season, as well, and many predicted that his time with Buffalo would be numbered.

What a difference a year makes.

After the Bills decided to replace Carpenter with veteran Stephen Hauschka, Schmidt won a training camp battle to retain his punting job. Along with long snapper Reid Ferguson, Buffalo’s triumvirate of specialists combined to help the “teams” unit move from number 24 to number 7 in Rich Gosselin’s annual special teams rankings.

In our next look at the state of the Bills’ roster, we shine a spotlight on the specialists.

K Stephen Hauschka

  • Contract status: signed; $3 million cap hit ($1 million cap savings if cut)
  • Age: Turned 33 on 6/29/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 137 ST snaps (31.35%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 29/33 FG (87.9%), long of 56, 29/29 XP, 37 TB

Hauschka had a fantastic year in Buffalo after signing as a free agent from the Seattle Seahawks before the 2017 season. He was perfect on extra points in 2017, and he was also second in the league in field goals made of 50 yards or greater. Combine this with the fact that Hauschka was able to handle kickoff duties, and Buffalo made a tremendous signing in the kicking game. He is nearly a roster lock.

P Colton Schmidt

  • Contract status: signed; $1.45 million cap hit ($1.15 million cap savings if cut)
  • Age: Will turn 28 on 10/27/18
  • 2017 Playing time: 141 ST snaps (32.27%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 79 punts, 3,529 yards (44.7 AVG), 6 TB, 28 inside 20, 40.5 net average

After a pretty poor 2016, Schmidt was on the hot seat coming into 2017. He survived a training camp competition for his job, and he turned in a solid 2017 season. While he had a better year last year than the year prior, he still was nowhere near the best in the league in most categories. His six touchbacks were the third-most in the NFL, and he was 18th in percentage of punts downed inside the 20 (35.4%). His net average of 40.5 yards per punt was also 18th in the league. The Bills could do worse than Schmidt, but they could also do better.

P Cory Carter

  • Contract status: signed; $480,000 cap hit (no guaranteed money)
  • Age: Turned 24 on 3/5/18
  • 2017 Playing time: N/A
  • Key 2017 statistics: N/A

Carter signed a reserve/future contract with the Bills, presumably to compete with Schmidt throughout the offseason. The Bills recognize that their top punter, although on a cheap contract, is someone who could certainly be upgraded going into next season. During his career at Texas Southern, Carter averaged 45 yards per punt, and he was a third-team All-American during his senior season.

LS Reid Ferguson

  • Contract status: signed; $555,000 cap hit (no dead cap if cut)
  • Age: Turned 24 on 3/24/18)
  • Playing time: 141 ST snaps (32.27%)
  • Key 2017 statistics: 0 bad snaps

After long-time long snapper Garrison Sanborn was released after the 2015 season, Ferguson stepped up and has performed quite well. The Bills have not had a botched special teams snap in Ferguson’s time with the team, which is all that anyone can ask for out of the position.

K Tyler Davis

  • Contract status: signed a standard UDFA contract; three years, $1.71 million with a $480,000 cap hit in 2018
  • Age: Will turn 24 on 9/29/94
  • Key 2017 statistics: 9/17 FG (53%), a much lower percentage than the rest of his time at Penn State

Offseason Outlook

Why fix what isn’t broken? Hauschka had a tremendous season, and Ferguson is solidly entrenched as the team’s long snapper. Clearly, the coaching staff deems Schmidt’s position to be the most easily upgraded, but even he was serviceable in 2017. The triumvirate stays in tact, though Buffalo did keep Carter on their practice squad last year which adds a question mark to the equation.