Specialists Week – Punters

Our week long delve into Special Teamers continues as Gordon McGuinness casts his eyes over the NFL's best punters.

| 1 year ago

Specialists Week – Punters

Specialist Week-PContinuing Special Teams Week, it’s time to take a look at the players who play such a key role in the field position battle, the punters. Another position that is vastly underappreciated in my eyes, having a good punter who can keep the ball in the air for as long as possible, and angle kicks closer to the sidelines, limits the opportunity for return yardage and can swing the field position battle in a team’s favor.

Punting varies depending on where you are on the field, so here we will look at the various aspects of a good punt, and give you the breakdown of the best five punters in the league at each part.

Open Field Punting

Open field punting is considered any punt from a team’s own goal line to their own 40 yard line. Here you are looking for a combination of three things:

Good distance, to get the ball as far downfield as possible;

Good hang time, to allow the coverage team to get downfield and prevent any return or to force a fair catch;

Good location, to pin the returner as close to the sideline as possible to limit his return options.

Distance – The Top Five


– It’s no surprise that this section is led by our two highest graded punters in Hekker and McAfee. Both possess booming legs, with McAfee showing that off on kickoffs too, and the ability to push returners back.

– Why did the Cleveland Browns trade for Lee? Spencer Lanning averaged 45.5 of air yards per punt in 2014, more than four yards lower than Lee.

– The lowest average air yards came from Tampa Bay’s Michael Koenen, who averaged 42.8 air yards per punt, over seven yards behind Hekker at the top.

Hang Time – The Top Five


– Bosher wasn’t far off the top five in air yards, coming in at 48.6, and makes up for that with the best average hang time in the league.

– Butler was at the lower end when it comes to distance, but with a top five average hang time that is offset somewhat, helping him allow just 24 returns on open field punts.

– Brandon Fields and Dave Zastudil were the only two punters in the league to average less than four seconds of hang time on open field punts.

Direction – The Top Five


– With 52.5% of his open field punts having an impact point outside the numbers, Morstead led the league and was the only punter above 50%

– Sam Koch’s impressive percentage here gives you an indication why the Ravens recently re-signed him. He may not have the strongest leg, but he can still angle punts very well.

– Mike Scifres was the only punter in the league with an outside the numbers percentage below 10%, with just 6.1% of his open field punts having an impact point outside the numbers.

Coffin Punting

Distance is still important when we look at coffin punting, but here it’s more about being able to drop the ball inside the 10 yard line than it is to boom it long. Hang time and direction are just as, if not more, important here than on open field punts.

Impact Inside 10 Yards – The Top Five


– This is one area where the Browns see a downgrade from Lanning to Lee, with just 39.1% of the former 49ers’ coffin punts landing inside the 10 yard line.

– Brandon Fields was something of an expert on coffin punts, dropping 14 of his 19 punts inside the 10 yard line, resulting in just four of the 19 being returned.

– Pat O’Donnell had the lowest percentage of punts with an impact inside the 10 yard line, coming in at just 35.3%.

Hang Time – The Top Five


– No punters had an average hang time of less than four seconds on coffin punts.

– The highest hang time on a single coffin punt in 2014 came from Denver’s Britton Colquitt, with a hang time of 5.60 seconds on a punt against the 49ers in Week 7.

– The average hang time for a coffin punt in the NFL in 2014 was 4.40 seconds, which was actually slightly lower than the hang time for an open field punt, which came in at 4.44 seconds.

Direction – The Top Five


– Proving why he was our highest graded punter, narrowly edging out McAfee, Hekker finds himself in the top five for five of the six categories listed here. Simply put, one of the best seasons we have seen from a punter.

– Just 8.7% of Andy Lee’s coffin punts landed outside the numbers.

– Our top five were the only five punters in the league with an Outside the Numbers percentage of 50% or above.


Follow Gordon on Twitter: @PFF_Gordon

| Analyst, Lead Special Teams Analyst

Gordon has worked at PFF since 2011, and now heads up the company’s special teams analysis processes. His work in-season focuses on college football, while he is also heavily involved in PFF’s NFL draft coverage.

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