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Who Were The Best Punters In 2014?

Yesterday, I looked at a new way to measure punting statistics. Let’s review by using the top single performance from 2014, which surprisingly came from Jets second-year punter Ryan Quigley in a 31-0 loss to San Diego. Yes, the Jets were terrible, but that doesn’t mean it was Quigley’s fault! He had 8 punts, and all but 1 was an above-average punt. Let’s review:

  • Punt 1: Quigley punts from the Jets 39-yard line. On average, when a team punts at the 39, the opposing team takes over at the “78.9” yard line, which means just a hair in front of that team’s 21-yard line. Instead, Quigley pinned San Diego back to their 11; that 51-yard punt therefore provided 11.1 more yards of field position than we would expect.
  • Punt 2 was a 44-yard punt from the Jets 29. On average, punts from the 29 pin the other team back at their 29.7 yard line. The 44-yarder had no return, giving San Diego the ball at their 27, so Quigley added 2.3 yards of field position over average.
  • Punt 3 was from the Jets 20, so San Diego would have been expected to take over at their 38.4-yard line. Instead, following a whopping 64 yard punt, a 2-yard return, and 9-yard lost by San Diego due to an illegal block, and the Chargers were back at their own 9-yard line. That goes down as +20.4 for Quigley. Is it fair to give the punter credit when the return team loses yards on a penalty? I don’t know, although I’m not sure if that’s more or less fair than return yards that team gains (or yards the punting team loses due to a penalty). Think of these more as punt unit ratings than punter ratings, I guess.
  • Okay, even I don’t have the energy to go through all 8 punts.  But on the other 5, Quigley gained 16.8 yards over expectation, 11.9, 10.4, 10.2, and on one bad punt, -6.0.

Add it all up, and on those 8 punts, Quigley provided about 77 extra yards of field position relative to the average punt. Do this calculation for every punter in every game, and we can generate season ratings. And in 2014, two punters stood out: Sam Koch and Pat McAfee. Here’s how to read Koch’s line. He had 60 punts, with a gross punting average of 47.3 yards, and a net of 44.1 yards. On average, Koch was punting from his own team’s 33.4-yard line, and the next play took place at the 76.2, or the opponent’s 23.8-yard line. Based on the average numbers crunched yesterday, we would expect the average Koch punt to start about 3.9 yards closer to the Baltimore end zone, so Koch is credited with an average of 3.9 yards above expectation per punt.

RkPunterTmPuntGrossNetAvg YdLFut FPExp FPDiff
1Sam KochBAL6047.344.133.476.272.33.9
2Pat McAfeeIND6946.743.333.676.172.23.9
3Johnny HekkerSTL8145.943.133.775.672.72.9
4Thomas MorsteadNOR5846.443.733.
5Kevin HuberCIN7346.843.435.477.274.62.5
6Dustin ColquittKAN7144.641.536.
7Matthew BosherATL6745.741.833.47472.21.8
8Ryan AllenNWE6745.741.334.67473.40.7
9Chris JonesDAL5944.740.133.372.872.20.6
10Andy LeeSFO734641.233.572.872.10.6
11Spencer LanningCLE9244.741.233.572.872.30.5
12Ryan QuigleyNYJ7945.341.731.570.970.50.4
13Donnie JonesPHI7643.840.337.57675.60.4
14Brett KernTEN9046.24132.471.871.40.4
15Marquette KingOAK10945.240.329.869.669.30.2
16Sam MartinDET6846.140.436.775.675.40.2
17Brad WingPIT6143.74034.573.273.10.1
18Colton SchmidtBUF8642.939.83573.473.40
19Jon RyanSEA6243.3403775.175.10
20Mike ScifresSDG5644.939.736.574.174.5-0.5
21Jeff LockeMIN7643.640.133.271.772.3-0.6
22Shane LechlerHOU8445.840.435.473.474-0.6
23Steve WeatherfordNYG8144.939.734.572.773.4-0.7
24Tress WayWAS7846.940.531.770.471.2-0.8
25Bryan AngerJAX9646.540.431.569.970.9-1
26Dave ZastudilARI1144.340.828.367.368.6-1.4
27Drew ButlerARI8141.137.937.874.575.9-1.4
28Brandon FieldsMIA5945.638.13572.173.6-1.5
29Britton ColquittDEN6944.138.333.470.672.3-1.7
30Pat O'DonnellCHI7243.237.631.968.771.2-2.5
31Tim MasthayGNB5142.33834.370.773.5-2.8
32Michael KoenenTAM7939.936.530.766.669.4-2.8
33Nick NovakSDG64036.728.565.268.2-3.1
34Brad NortmanCAR7443.736.43671.174.3-3.3
35Mat McBriarSDG1346.936.930.766.171.2-5.1

Note that my numbers may differ slightly from NFL averages, either because of glitches in play-by-play data or because I am including the result of penalty yards (and the NFL does not). Also, and this is something I just learned, blocked punts don’t count against a punter’s average, although they do in my formula. That said, some thoughts:

  • You might wonder whether this was worth the effort, given that Koch also topped this table in both gross and net punting average. But to that I say, no Tress Way! Washington’s punter had an absurdly high gross average,1 but ranks below-average in this formula. One reason: Way had 17 more punts than Koch, yet had 3 more touchbacks and four fewer punts inside the 20. Score a win for this formula!
  • Do punters get due? I have no clue, but it seems like Johnny Hekker, Thomas Morstead, and Kevin Huber deserve some props. Koch and McAfee are relatively well-known, by punter standards, but who knew those three had such strong seasons in 2014? Actually, Huber made the Pro Bowl, but who knew that, anyway?
  • McAfee is well-regarded, but here’s a good stat for you: he had 30 punts land inside the 20 and just 3 go for touchbacks. A 10:1 ratio in that metric is very, very good.
  • Carolina’s Brad Nortman was the worst regular punter in the NFL last year. The Panthers actually punted in pretty good field position for a bad offense: their average punt was at the 36, but Nortman had a miserable 36.4-net average. And he had two punts blocked (both against the Vikings)! And given that promising field position, his “inside 20” ratio was not particularly impressive, either. But the Panthers seem to like him, so what do I know.

Okay, that’s all I got today. As always, please leave your thoughts in the comments.

  1. He actually tied for the league-lead in gross punting average by the NFL’s calculations, but his one blocked punt drops him below Koch in mine. []
  • AgronomyBrad

    I take it these stats aren’t adjusted for indoor/outdoor/rainy/cold etc? Have you considered a “bonus” for fair catches?

  • Holden Caywood

    I would say if Kevin Huber is known for anything, it’s the jarring hit he took from Terence Garvin.

  • http://www.nflgsis.com/Schedule/EliasRptLeadingPunters.aspx?Season=2014&SeasonType=Reg&HighlightTeam=none&Sort=NetYardsOverAvg
    You have Nortman almost half a yard per punt worse than Masthay, who was the lowest rated punter by my formula last year. I’m not sure why, though I suspect spikiness in your formula. I use a two year average, you’re only looking at one. There are some yard lines where there just aren’t very many punts.
    Net Yards over Average does track net punting average pretty closely, though if a punter has to punt on his own side of the field an unusual amount the two numbers can start to differ.

    • There are no spikes in the data, since I’m using a smoothed line. I’m not sure what explains the difference in our data.

  • Clint

    Strange how Cleveland let Spencer Lanning go and traded a 7th round pick for Andy Lee. Seems like they are equally as productive.
    Since we hate seeing our team punt so often, punters don’t get the credit they deserve.
    As Jim Tressel said “the punt is the most important play in football”
    Yes, an actual Head Coach actually said this.

    • Alejandro

      “Strange how Cleveland let Spencer Lanning go and traded a 7th round pick for Andy Lee.”

      I just found it weird that anyone would trade a punter at all. And according to PFR’s Trade Finder, it’s only happened twice in this millennium:

      Panthers and Broncos exchange Todd Sauerbrun and Jason Baker in 2005
      Bears send a 7th round pick to Dolphins for someone called Brent Bartholomew in 2000

      • Clint

        Brent Bartholomew from THE Ohio State University (and no, I did not have to look that up)
        It is strange that we traded for a punter though.

  • Joe Wright

    Should performance on fake punts factor in somehow as part of the job? I’d guess Hekker and Koch are two of the best there too.

    • Richie

      Probably as much as “play action” should factor into a QB’s ratings.

  • Adam

    Britton Colquitt ranked 29th despite the major advantage of punting at high altitude. Based on that I’d say he was the worst punter in the league.

    What does 3.9 yards mean in terms of EPA? I’m curious to know how much absolute value the best punters provide.

    • Richie

      …or Colquitt’s punt coverage team wasn’t very good.

      • Adam

        It’s a combination of both. The Broncos have had consistently awful punt and kick return coverage since…pretty much forever. But still, Colquitt wasn’t booming those 60 yard punts in 2014 like he had in previous years.

    • Richie

      The EPA will depend on the game conditions of each punt. I looked at the Quigley game that Chase mentioned. According to the PFR game log his 8 punts had a net of 6.96 EPA. His best was the one at the end of the first quarter (Punt 3 in Chase’s writeup). Prior to the punt, the Jets had a -2.03 expected points. After the punt they had a +.38 EP, for a +2.41 punt.

      • Richie

        Thinking about it more, I think in order to calculate EPA added, we would need to take the beginning EP from each punt and then compare to the EXPECTED EP after the punt. Then take the beginning EP and compare to the ACTUAL EP after the punt. The difference between the two would be EPA above average.

        • Richie

          OK, I did the math for Sam Koch. The sum of his individual punts had an expected EPA of 23.7. His actual punts had an EPA of 42.5. Therefore, his punts were worth 18.8 EPA above average.

          • Richie

            Shane Lechler had expected EPA (eEPA) of 22.8 and actual EPA (aEPA) of 24.9 for 2.1 EPAA.

            • Richie

              Brandon Fields: 20.9 eEPA, 21.0 aEPA, 0.1 EPAae.

              • Richie

                Mike Scifres: 20.1 eEPA, 19.4 aEPA, -0.7 EPAae.

                • Clint

                  One of my friends said “Mikey Scifres could hit a dime anywhere on the field”
                  Amongst the most random things I’ve ever heard. Haha

          • Richie

            Britton Colquitt had eEPA of 26.0, aEPA of 24.8 and EPA of -1.3.

          • Adam

            Thanks. An EPA boost of 18.8 is more significant than I was expecting. Apparently the best and worst punters can actually swing a game or two over the course of a season. For some reason I had always thought the differences in punters was negligible, but evidently that’s not true.

            • Richie

              I figured I should compare Koch to McAfee, since they had the same “Diff” at the top of the chart. McAfee had 17.4 EPA above average.

        • Tom

          Richie – I believe this is what Bryan Frye said as a comment on yesterday’s post. It’s a good idea, makes sense.

    • Colquitt is a sound choice, but I’m going to nominate Drew Butler, Michael Koenen, and Spencer Lanning (Chase’s Nortman suggestion works, too). Butler had an awful net average (36.9) and a really disastrous playoff game. Koenen had the best field position for punting of anyone in the league, and his average was just as bad (36.9). Lanning had a below-average net (38.8), but he worked from good field position, he was terrible at pinning opponents deep (24 I-20, 9 TB), and he allowed a huge number or returns (41, third-most in the NFL).

      • Adam

        I’m surprised that Lanning still ranks 11th despite the horrible touchback ratio. As an aside, is there any play more frustrating to watch than a punt from opponent territory that ends in a touchback? Good point about Butler; Ryan Lindley’s train wreck playoff performance obscured just how awful Butler was in that game, too. Similarly, I remember Tom Rouen having a pathetic performance in SBXL but no one noticed because all the focus was on the officiating blunders.

  • Richie

    We use punters in our fantasy football league. I wish our league website would offer “punting yards above expectation” as a category!

  • Richie

    This whole punting series was just an excuse to use your “no Tress Way!” joke, wasn’t it?

    • Andrew Healy

      I think this piece was just a way to go on and on about the Jets’ punter

  • Alejandro

    Boomstick appears! Great job, but as a Skins fan, I humbly ask you all refrain from discreditng Tress Way…

    It’s all we have… *sobs*

  • Jamie Parry

    Do you have a table so when I watch a game and we punt from the 25 yard line I know the expected outcome so I can judge it? Just a list of yardages and the expected starting point of opposition?