It's no secret that I have been critical of Britton Colquitt's performance (here, here and here). Last season he was the second-highest paid punter in the league, but his performance was severely lacking compared to other highly-compensated punters across the NFL. This year he is making about half of what he made last season ($2.35 million, according to spotrac.com), but he is still the 11th highest paid punter. So is he earning his paycheck in 2015?
There are three things that a punter is trying to attain on every punt:
1. Hang Time - Keeping the ball in the air for as long as possible. This allows your coverage team to get down the field and minimize return yardage.
2. Accuracy - Placing the ball where you want it. We will measure this by how often punters get punts downed inside the 20, 15, 10 and 5 yard lines.
3. Distance - being able to "flip the field" makes any punter a weapon. Guys who can routinely hit 50+ yard punts are true assets to their teams.
Comparing NFL punters through 12 games
Avg is the gross average while net avg is total punt distance minus return yardage divided by total number of punts. Precision Punt Percentage (PPP) is percentage of punts downed inside the 10 minus percentage of punts that end as touchbacks. It measure how good a punter is at putting balls inside the 10 either in the air (via fair catch), on a roll or angled so that they go out of bounds inside the 10 (the coffin-corner punt which few punters attempt any more).
In terms of gross average this year, Britton Colquitt is currently 25th in the league at 43.6. Because our punt coverage has been above average this season, he is 19th in net punt average at 39.3 - this is 5.2 yards per punt behind the league leader, Sam Koch of the Ravens. One interesting thing to note about punt length is that seven out of the ten teams at the bottom of the league are almost certainly going to the playoffs this year (Bengals, Broncos, Packers, Steelers, Vikings and Cardinals). So Colquitt has not gotten it done it terms of punt length this year, but he has never been good at hitting long punts (the highest he has ever finished was 9th during his first year as our punter in 2010).
Given that he plays half of his games at altitude, his punting distance numbers should be inflated; they are not, at least they do not appear to be so.
I like graphs. They can be used to get messages across that are hard to express with words. This is graph comparing Britton Colquitt to one of the elite punters in the NFL, Pat McAfee, in terms of punt length.
This graph shows just how poorly Britton has fared this season in terms of punt length. Not only does he have a lack of punts on the long end, but he also has bunch on the very short end.
Colquitt has completely failed in terms of pinning our opponents deep this season. He is 29th in the league in percentage of punts downed inside the 20 (33%), 27th on % inside the 15, 25th on % inside the 10 and 19th on % inside the 5. So maybe he has been so poor at pinning our opponents because he is hitting the ball high to force fair catches and to avoid touchbacks. Well he is 22nd in the league at forcing fair catches (19%) and he is 25th in the league at avoiding touchbacks (7.5% of his punts have gone for touchbacks this season). Colquitt's PPP is 27th (3.0%). It's hard to argue that he is sacrificing length for hang time or accuracy given those results.
One saving thing this year for Britton is that the punter in San Diego has been even worse than him. Unfortunately our other two division rivals have punters that are weapons. Britton's brother is one of the best in the league and Marquette King of the Faiders currently leads the league in % of punts downed inside the 20 at 59% - almost double what Britton has done this year. Relative to last season, when Britton was below average, Britton has regressed. He is worse in every category so far this season. He does have three games left in Denver, but he would need to really figure things out in the last four games to even match his mediocre punting performance from last season.
What makes this more glaring of a problem is how good our defense has been this season. Just imagine if we had a punter who consistently forced other teams to start their drives at the 10-yard line. Even in Denver teams would need 60 or more yards per drive just to get in field goal range. Our defense has only allowed 11 drives this season that went for 60 or more yards in 12 games. Think about that. Even an average punter paired with an elite defense becomes a weapon. Sadly, Britton Colquitt hasn't even sniffed average this season. Imagine how much more dominant our defense could be if we had a punter like Pat McAfee.
There's not a lot we can do in 2015. A super-punter is not going to come from nowhere and rescue the Broncos. In 2016, Colquitt is scheduled to make $4 million, a 70% increase in salary from 2015. In a year full of pending free agents like Brock Osweiler and Malik Jackson, the Broncos should address this.
In the meantime, I'm just really hoping that Britton Colquitt doesn't cost the Broncos a game this year.