Eagles' Special Teams Unit Ranked Best in NFL for Second Time in 3 Years

For another season in 2016, the Eagles' offense and defense were at times up and down. 

Special teams never wavered. 

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Dave Fipp's unit has been among the best since his arrival to Philadelphia in 2013. In 2016, his unit was the very best, according to Rick Gosselin's annual rankings in the Dallas Morning News. This is the second time in three years the Eagles have earned the top spot. 

The Eagles had the best kickoff starting position at the 27.2-yard and the best opponent kickoff starting position at the 22.7-yard line in 2016. They led the league with two kick return touchdowns and had the second-best punt return average of 12.9. 

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On top of it all, kicker Caleb Sturgis made 35 field goals, a career-high and a new Eagles record. 

"There's been a long legacy of playing really well on special teams here with the Eagles," Fipp said to the Eagles' website on Wednesday. "I think we inherited some of that legacy and it's been passed down from the guys way before us. We're just picking up the flag and carrying it further. I think there's definitely a standard and an expectation that when you're playing special teams for this organization you have to play at a high level. That really has nothing to do with me. It's set by guys who played a long time ago and then it's set from the very top of the organization, by Mr. (Jeffrey) Lurie, and it all trickles down."

It's not just Fipp. The Eagles as an organization have put an emphasis on special teams, as evidenced by re-signing long-snapper Jon Dorenbos, punter Donnie Jones and special teams ace Chris Maragos to contract extensions during the season. 

This offseason, two important teamers will become free agents: Bryan Braman (UFA) and Trey Burton (RFA). 

While Fipp declined to speak to CSNPhilly.com toward the end of the season about the possibility of becoming a head coach, his players raved about him (see story). From Maragos to Burton to Darren Sproles to Kamu Grugier-Hill, they all thought Fipp has head coach potential. So did Ravens head coach John Harbaugh while on a conference call with Philly reporters during the season. While he did take a year to coach defensive backs, Harbaugh is still the best special teams coordinator-to-head coach example in the league. 

On that conference call, Harbaugh broke down the reasons a special teams coordinator, in theory, should make a good head coach: He has to be organized. He has to understand the roster. He has to evaluate talent. He has to develop young players. And he's the only coach aside from the head coach that deals with both sides of the team. 

Fipp has done a masterful job in his four seasons with the Eagles. In 2016, his unit was the best in the league, but that joy is short-lived. 

"Last year means nothing," Fipp said to the Eagles' website. "Rankings are nice, but at the end of the day it really means nothing. The bottom line for us is we want to contend as a team for championships and playoffs. We've got a lot of work ahead of us to get there. Fortunately, we do have some great players to start with, but we've got a lot of work to do both in acquiring players and also bringing the best out of the players that we've got in this building. We're excited about the future. We're excited to get to work here."

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