Phantoms Of The Kick Off: Capturing NFL Special Teamers That Never Made It At Their Actual Position (Part 1 of 5)

Let's go on a little ghost hunt this week.

Ever wonder about the guys in the NFL that play special teams and never really get a chance to play their actual position? The players on the fringe of the roster who have to earn their chances by balling out on special teams. But what about the ones that never really got that chance? Have you ever wondered who battled on the front lines of kickoffs and punt returns the most while remaining a complete unknown? A mirage somehow hiding for years in plain sight, yet whose name is as ephemeral as a single frame in the memory of his own team's fans. He is a phantom. A phantom of the kick off. 

Step into this stathole, because we're going to find the phantomest of them all. May as well while we're all stuck in the thick of the summer sports slog. Perfect time to kill some time while we wait another 59 days before kickoff. Plus I think these phantoms deserve some recognition. Think about it. They've only known positional relegation and have remained imprisoned in plain sight for you to watch and ignore. At best, they are their own fans' Deja vu. 

Here are the rules. Each day this week I'll blog on one of what I'll argue are the five biggest phantoms on record. Regular season/Playoffs only, so no preseason heroes. You might actually remember one of them after all. I'm using snap count data as the engine here which only goes back to 2012, so shoutout to anyone who played before then who's phantomness will remain unrecognized likely forever. Whoever you never were. 

But let's first set the stage. Below is a table of the NFL players sorted by most career special teams plays. The top-two names (Matthew Slater and Brandon Bolden) you've definitely heard of. Both Bill Belichick New England Patriots' who really had to earn their way into playing their actual position. 

Take note of the number of offensive/defensive snaps by all players on this list. Only place kicker Justin Tucker failed to ever get a snap on offense or defense because - well, duh - he's a kicker and the best kicker of all time. As for the rest of this crew, safe to say these are all perennial preseason roster bubble boys that just squeeked by without being popped. Living every play like their last as they desperately try to make an impact on special teams to earn a snap here and there in their native role. 

I show you this list to provide a baseline expectation for how many plays on offense/defense a fringe roster bubble boy type is likely to have in their career. And as hard knock of a life it is for a guy like Matthew Slater to play just 268 plays as a wide receiver as reward for 3,974 brutal special teams plays, he is nothing close to being considered a phantom. Say his name in a New England pub and someone will frown for a second and respond: "oh yeah, I rahmembah that guy". In fact, none of the names on this list are phantoms. Not even close. Even though they are the players who've been stuck playing special teams the most. 

So who is? Put your ghostbusters gear on people. It's time to go hunting.

Let's consumate this quest. Here's our phantom player of the day. 

NFL Phantom #5: Dee Virgin

Nuccio DiNuzzo. Getty Images.


OK. Time out. I feel like everyone knows who Dee "most memeable name ever" Virgin is which certainly hurts his phantom cred, but this was too perfect to resist. Dee - an undrafted corner from the 2017 class - popped up on my list of players who had the lowest percent of snaps taken on offense/defense vs special teams. He played 478 special teams plays in attempt to prove himself worthy of cornerback snaps on defense. Luckily for him he would not live up to his name as he popped his defensive cherry for one single defensive snap of his entire career on November 16, 2020. One out of 479 plays or .2% of his career. Just to be clear - the decimal point is not a typo. 

Pro-football Reference Stats:

I think us guys can all relate when we learn he only lasted 40 seconds in finally doing something he dreamt about doing his entire life while being completely unmemorable in this performance. I mean, he didn't even show up on the stat sheet. No tackle. No mention of a sack. And since he played corner, it's unlikely he really ever even went inside the box. In his defense though, since he only had one crack at it, that left him zero chance to ever explore changing positions. 

This is some bullshit if you ask me. How bad could Virgin have been on this one play? Was he legally required to change his name to "No longer Virgin" before going a round two? Because if players have to live up to the name on their back, then I have some questions for other players such as 6'4" 332 lb. Richie Incognito. 

Adam Bettcher. Getty Images.

Anyway - I feel for Dee. I don't know what the hell happened on that one play but if he gave up a pass, committed a penalty or did something obbviosly stupid, it would have showed. Even still, he was cut the week afterwards by the Lions. The 2020 Lions. New England picked him up for Week 17 so they could have him hold down one of their 'inactive' designations which started and ended the Dee Virgin era in New England. 

The 49ers picked him up for the 2021 season and played him in two games for 32 special teams snaps to presumably end his career in the NFL. All in all, he played for six teams (or was at least signed by six teams) and made $1.35 Million across five years. That's about 270K before taxes. Pitiful in NFL terms, but elite for normies. Then again, us normies didn't put our bodies on the front line of the most dangerous part of the most dangerous team sport. 


Dee had 15 total tackles and one forced fumble in his career. That's 16 instances in which you might have heard his name on TV during his five-year career. Hopefully there will be a 17th this season. And many more. I'd love to see a team take a flyer on the kid and give him an actual damn chance at cornerback. I mean - the kid literally has experience. One experience. But experience. Come on now GMs!

Dee Promiscuous >>> Dee Virgin. 

I'll be back early tomorrow morning for another round (unlike Dee) as we look at a player who didn't even get the non-chance Dee Virgin got. A linebacker who stayed true to his position name by remaining back behind the line on every single defensive play of his career. It is he who leads the record book with most special teams plays without a single play at his actual position.

See you tomorrow. 


PS: Need some more random NFL research to get you through offseason? Got you covered:

- What NFL player has the most transactions?

- Who's the other player that also has 113 transactions?

- What coach is the best/worst at coin flips?