Season review: Raiders specialists

January 14, 2012, 7:36 pm
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Oakland's specialists -- specifically placekicker Sebastian Janikowski, punter Shane Lechler and long snapper Jon Condo -- were the Raiders' one constant this past season. Not only were they they most valuable players on the team, they were the most dangerous at their positions in the AFC, if not the most dependable in the NFL.
Grade: A-SPECIALISTSSebastian Janikowski -- Has it really been 11 years since so much ridicule was heaped upon Al Davis and the Raiders for taking a wild-child placekicker with a first-round draft pick? Things could not have gone more swimmingly for the man known as 'SeaBass' in his 12th NFL season. Two years into the four-year, 16-million contract, with 9 million guaranteed, that made him the highest-paid kicker in the history of the game, Janikowski had perhaps his finest season and was rewarded with his first Pro Bowl invite. It all began on opening night in Denver, when he ended the first half by tying the NFL record for longest field goal with his 63-yarder. And it continued throughout, even as a strained left hamstring slowed him and forced him to miss a game for the first time since 2001. Janikowski's 129 points were the second-most of his career and the 10 field goals he attempted from at least 50 yards led the league. He was 31-of 35 on his field-goal attempts, with all four misses coming from beyond 40 yards. Two of the four were blocked, including a 65-yard attempt against Detroit. Janikowski has long been known as having the strongest leg in the game -- the Raiders are in scoring position seemingly once they cross midfield -- but now his accuracy from distance is being recognized as well. His 88.6 percent conversion rate on field goals was the third-highest of his career. And while he started off booming kickoffs out of the end zone with regularity, his strained hamstring slowed that roll.Shane Lechler -- Janikowski's draft classmate -- Lechler was taken in the fifth round in 2000 -- has long been seen as one of the top punters in NFL history. And his booming punts continued throughout his 12th season. He had a 77-yard punt to tie a franchise record on opening night in Denver. Then, he went right after Chicago's Devin Hester 10 games later and dropped an 80-yard punt on him. In between, Lechler, who is also Janikowski's holder, threw a 35-yard touchdown pass to Kevin Boss on a fake field goal against Cleveland. Lechler's 50.8-yards per punt average was the second-highest of his career, behind his 51.1 average in 2009, and it was second in the league to the 49ers' Andy Lee, who finished with a 50.9 average. And while Lechler's 40.9 net average was only fifth in the league, it was hurt because he sometimes out-punted his coverage; two of his punts were returned for TDs, a 90-yarder by Denver's Eric Decker in the opener and an 85-yarder by Eddie Royal in the return game. Lechler, who will be entering the final season of his four-year, 16-million deal, with 9 million guaranteed, may have been edged out by Lee for All-Pro, but he was invited to his seventh Pro Bowl.Jon Condo -- The unsung hero of the specialists. Nothing happens without the long snapper making it happen, right? And with both Janikowski and Lechler headed to Honolulu, Condo should get invited to the NFL's all-star game as well, no? Well, he's already made one Pro Bowl game, two years ago, but no one would complain if he got a return call. His perfectly-placed snaps enabled Janikowski to tie the mark for longest field goal and for Lechler's franchise-record 80-yard punt. Plus, Condo is often one of the first down on punt coverage. Really, only one of his snaps seemed off this season, and that was the high one against Detroit, when Janikowski lined up to attempt a game-winning 65-yard field goal that was blocked. Other than that, he makes the kickers look good, and vice-versa.