The 49ers sure missed long-snapper Kyle Nelson last year. With him back, their special teams performance should improve in 2020.
The San Francisco 49ers‘ special teams unit in 2019 wasn’t particularly great, especially when long-snapper Kyle Nelson was rounding out the final six games of the 10-game suspension he was handed late in 2018.
Nelson, of course, anchored the long-snapping duties for the Niners ever since joining the team in 2014. Aside from being one of the less-known players on San Francisco’s roster, last season’s rotating carousel of fill-in players helps illustrate why these specialists have some importance.
During Nelson’s suspension, the 49ers experimented with a variety of options including Colin Holba, John Condo and Garrison Sanborn. The Niners were also working in a new holder in punter Mitch Wishnowsky, too, making for a lot of moving parts in front of veteran kicker Robbie Gould.
|6 yr||6 yr||SFO||86||0||0||1||15||11||4|
|1 yr||1 yr||SDG||6||0||1||1||0|
|1 yr||1 yr||WAS||11||0||1||0|
Provided by Pro-Football-Reference.com: View Original Table
As a result, Gould’s 2019 field-goal percentage dropped from a league-best 97.1 the previous year to 74.2 percent. In total, Gould missed 23 of 31 field-goal tries last season along with one extra point missed.
Again, there are a lot of rotating pieces here, although one should point out Gould missed only one field-goal try after Nelson returned from suspension.
Essentially, what the Niners are looking for here is consistency. Niner Noise’s “Who Is?” series breaks down why it’s important for Nelson and Co. this season.
Why Kyle Nelson improves with 49ers in 2020
If a long-snapper is doing his job, few would notice. Snaps are placed right on target to the holder for easy placement, and that’s about it.
Nelson’s return produced only a handful of questionable snaps last season, such as a high one on Gould’s game-winning field goal against the New Orleans Saints in Week 14. But Wishnowsky saved it without issue.
Again, the key for Nelson is consistency. Not much else here to break down.
Why Kyle Nelson regresses with 49ers in 2020
Age isn’t particularly a big concern with long-snappers, considering their relative lack of use and field time. Longtime Niners long-snapper Brian Jennings was playing effectively enough at 36 years old during his final season in the NFL back in 2012, being released in what ended up being a cap-saving move.
Nelson will turn 34 years old this season, so one can start questioning his own effectiveness a bit. But that’s limited. The only real issue is if some of the placement accuracy starts to wane, forcing a less-stable special teams battery like San Francisco endured early last year.
Projected role with 49ers this season
The Niners didn’t add any long-snappers to their offseason roster, so there’s little-to-no reason to assume the team will want to move on from Nelson between now and Week 1.
Nelson is a relatively expensive specialist, though, set to earn $1.05 million this season, albeit with zero guaranteed money over the duration of his contract, which expires after 2022. Considering the issues San Francisco had on special teams during Nelson’s suspension, however, one could make the argument the cost is worth it.
As a result, one should expect no one else but Nelson holding down these duties for the team this upcoming season, probably in the next few years, too.
And if no one notices, it’s all the better.