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Why Britton Colquitt will not be punting for the Broncos in 2015

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Britton Colquitt was the 2nd highest paid punter in the NFL in 2014 (or highest paid punter depending on what number you use). His performance was bottom half or even bottom third of the league by almost every measure. In this piece we will look at just how much yardage Colquitt cost the Broncos in 2014 relative to other punters in the league.

Wave goodbye, Britton.
Wave goodbye, Britton.
Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The very act of punting is an admission of defeat. When your offense is forced to punt, the opponent's defense has won that round. Having a punter who is a "weapon" makes that admission of defeat somewhat more palatable. What makes a punter a weapon? The ability to "gain yardage" for his team. The job of a punter, at its core is quite simple. It has three parts:

1. Catch the snap

2. Punt the ball before it can be blocked

3. Kick the ball so that the other team has to start as close to their own goal line as possible

The first two jobs are fairly simple (there were only 19 punts blocked in 2014 on 2363 punt attempts). The third part of the job is the difficult task. I addressed this cursorily in the comments of my last post about Colquitt (holy crap!, I've done four posts about kickers now?!?).  Britton Colquitt was doing well after 13 games of the season in terms of precision punting, but he was not doing well in terms of distance. Let's look at how he finished the year.

Not Earning His Pay

Here's what his final precision punting numbers looked like and how they compare to the rest of the league. PPP is precision punt percentage = (% of punts downed inside the 10) - (% of punts that ended as touchbacks). Note that this table is sortable; click the column headings to sort.

Team Gross Punt Ave Punts %in20 %in15 %in10 %in5 %TB PPP
Colts 46.7 69 43% 41% 22% 8.7% 4.3% 17.4%
Seahawks 43.4 61 46% 38% 26% 4.9% 9.8% 16.4%
Dolphins 45.6 58 36% 33% 21% 8.6% 5.2% 15.5%
Ravens 47.4 60 43% 37% 22% 3.3% 6.7% 15.0%
Chiefs 44.6 71 44% 37% 21% 7.0% 7.0% 14.1%
Panthers 43.7 72 36% 33% 21% 4.2% 6.9% 13.9%
Lions 46.1 68 43% 28% 19% 2.9% 7.4% 11.8%
Rams 45.9 80 41% 31% 18% 2.5% 6.3% 11.3%
Bengals 46.8 73 37% 29% 19% 8.2% 8.2% 11.0%
Chargers 44.9 74 31% 31% 20% 5.4% 9.5% 10.8%
Falcons 45.7 67 40% 34% 16% 1.5% 6.0% 10.4%
Buccaneers 39.9 78 22% 23% 13% 3.8% 2.6% 10.3%
Giants 44.9 80 31% 23% 18% 5.0% 7.5% 10.0%
Raiders 45.2 109 28% 24% 12% 3.7% 2.8% 9.2%
Titans 46.3 88 32% 22% 17% 3.4% 8.0% 9.1%
Cowboys 44.6 57 37% 30% 12% 1.8% 3.5% 8.8%
Broncos 44.2 69 36% 25% 14% 4.3% 5.8% 8.7%
Saints 46.4 58 33% 29% 17% 6.9% 8.6% 8.6%
Bills 42.9 86 36% 28% 13% 4.7% 7.0% 5.8%
Eagles 43.8 76 45% 33% 14% 5.3% 9.2% 5.3%
Redskins 46.9 77 29% 25% 14% 5.2% 9.1% 5.2%
Jets 45.3 78 29% 24% 17% 1.3% 11.5% 5.1%
Texans 45.8 83 33% 31% 17% 4.8% 12.0% 4.8%
Cardinals 41.5 90 39% 31% 11% 4.4% 6.7% 4.4%
Browns 44.3 93 27% 19% 14% 2.2% 9.7% 4.3%
Bears 43.2 71 28% 21% 8% 5.6% 4.2% 4.2%
Packers 42.3 49 29% 24% 12% 2.0% 8.2% 4.1%
49ers 46.2 72 39% 31% 13% 2.8% 9.7% 2.8%
Jaguars 46.5 94 27% 22% 13% 1.1% 10.6% 2.1%
Steelers 43.0 61 33% 20% 8% 0.0% 6.6% 1.6%
Patriots 45.7 66 38% 29% 11% 3.0% 9.1% 1.5%
Vikings 43.7 75 28% 19% 9% 2.7% 8.0% 1.3%
Average 44.8 73.8 35% 28% 16% 4.1% 7% 8%

And this table shows where our Colquitt finished the season in all of the stats used to measure punting performance during his five NFL seasons in Denver:

Britton Colquitt career stats
YEAR GROSS AVE Rank NET Rank TB% Rank IN20% Rank FC% Rank
2010 44.6 10 36.6 22 8.1% 18 22.1 32 19.8 20
2011 47.4 9 40.2 6 6.9% 13 32.7 18 26.7 11
2012 46.3 16 42.1 5 6.0% 12 40.3 10 25.4 16
2013 44.5 21 38.8 24 4.6% 7 35.4 17 38.5 2
2014 43.9 22 37.6 28 5.8% 7 36.0 14 27.5 18
Career 45.5 16 40.5 17 6.3 11 33.2 18 27.6 13

From those relative league rankings, the only one close to justifying Colquitt's high salary is possibly his rank as the 7th best punter in the league at avoiding touchbacks. FWIW this season he was 21st, 17th and 15th at % inside the 15, 10 and 5 respectively. So either he is average to below average or his coverage team was well below average (which would make his precision numbers look worse). A good punt coverage team can make a poor punter look average and an average punter look great. Our new special teams coach has a history of great coverage units.

Leaving yards on the field

Another way to think about that third part of the punting job is to think about it as maximizing yardage. You can characterize punts by field positions and I chose to break them into two groups: short field punts (from beyond the team's 35) and long-field punts (from the 1 to the 35). Most NFL punters have strong enough legs to be worried about touchbacks on short-field punts. On long-field punts, the punter is trying to kick the ball as high and as far as possible to maximize yardage (push the opponent as far back as possible) and to minimize the chance of a long return (avoiding the situation where the punter "outpunts" the coverage). So what is a realistic "A+" outcome from a long-field punt - let's say that it is a 65 yard NET punt - meaning that if you are punting from your own 30, the other team starts their drive at their own 15. On short-field punts, accuracy comes into play more than leg strength. So that the ideal outcome from a short-field punt is forcing the opponent to start their drive at their own 1. This means that a punt from the opponents 37, would only result in a net punt of 36 yards (a "short" punt) if the punter (and coverage team) pinned the opponent at their 1. If you are just looking at raw numbers, a 36 yard punt looks like a "bad" punt, so my method tries reward both accuracy and leg strength (and coverage team ability) by measuring how much yardage a punter could have gained for his team and then expressing a yardage% for all of a punters punts. I did this for every punt in 2014 and then averaged the score for every punter. In the table below you'll see that Colquitt was (again) definitely not worth his salary. Higher numbers are better here

Team Punt% Stand. Dev.
Browns 72.9% 21%
Falcons 72.7% 22%
Dolphins 71.6% 18%
Cardinals 71.5% 16%
Packers 71.0% 22%
Chargers 71.0% 14%
Titans 69.1% 19%
Raiders 68.6% 22%
Jets 67.6% 22%
Bills 67.5% 16%
Ravens 67.4% 14%
Panthers 67.4% 20%
Colts 67.1% 23%
Buccaneers 67.0% 18%
49ers 67.0% 17%
Patriots 66.5% 26%
Saints 66.2% 20%
Steelers 66.1% 18%
Texans 65.9% 21%
Jaguars 65.8% 28%
Vikings 65.2% 30%
Bengals 64.8% 19%
Bears 64.8% 19%
Broncos 64.2% 17%
Giants 64.1% 17%
Chiefs 63.7% 21%
Rams 63.5% 14%
Cowboys 63.3% 28%
Eagles 62.2% 18%
Seahawks 61.5% 19%
Redskins 61.4% 17%
Lions 61.3% 15%
Average 66.6% 20%

So the average NFL punter got 67% of the possible yardage that they could have "gained" for their team last season. Colquitt was below average here, but the spread was tighter than I expected with the worst punter in the league coming in at 61.3% and the best punter in the league at 72.9%. I put the standard deviation on the table to show who was consistent and who was not. Lower standard deviation means that the punter was more consistent at "gaining yards." Britton Colquitt was more consistent than the average punter, even if that meant he was consistently "leaving yards on the field."

So if we combine yardage gained for the team (punt%), accuracy (ppp) and salary we have a table that shows what teams were getting value from the punter and what teams were not.

Team Punt% PPP 2014 Salary
Browns 72.9% 4.3% $450,000
Falcons 72.7% 10.4% $3,031,176
Dolphins 71.6% 15.5% $3,300,000
Cardinals 71.5% 4.4% $545,000
Packers 71.0% 4.1% $1,200,000
Chargers 71.0% 10.8% $855,000
Titans 69.1% 9.1% $1,298,125
Raiders 68.6% 9.2% $455,333
Jets 67.6% 5.1% $495,000
Bills 67.5% 5.8% $420,000
Ravens 67.4% 15.0% $2,500,000
Panthers 67.4% 13.9% $544,670
Colts 67.1% 17.4% $2,900,000
Buccaneers 67.0% 10.3% $480,000
49ers 67.0% 2.8% $3,400,000
Patriots 66.5% 1.5% $495,500
Saints 66.2% 8.6% $3,647,500
Steelers 66.1% 1.6% $510,000
Texans 65.9% 4.8% $1,833,333
Jaguars 65.8% 2.1% $719,292
Vikings 65.2% 1.3% $586,048
Bengals 64.8% 11.0% $2,800,000
Bears 64.8% 4.2% $581,327
Broncos 64.2% 8.7% $3,892,333
Giants 64.1% 10.0% $1,883,333
Chiefs 63.7% 14.1% $3,750,000
Rams 63.5% 11.3% $480,000
Cowboys 63.3% 8.8% $465,000
Eagles 62.2% 5.3% $1,833,333
Seahawks 61.5% 16.4% $1,516,667
Redskins 61.4% 5.2% $465,000
Lions 61.3% 11.8% $580,075

Indeed, Colquitt was the highest-paid punter in 2014. Out of that investment, the Broncos got one of the ten lowest precision punting percentages and yardage in the bottom half of the league.

Colquitt was the NFL's highest-paid punter in 2014, but ranked in the bottom half of our metrics.

Colquitt is under contract to the Broncos for two more years and he still is guaranteed $2.8 million in the final two years of his contract (salary data is from overthecap.com). I don't know what that would mean for our salary cap if we were to cut him and replace him with someone else. Of the punters who made big salaries last year, Matt Bosher, Brandon Fields, Sam Koch and Pat McAfee performed up to that level. The Colquitt brothers did not perform anywhere near the level of their salaries, although Dustin performed much better than Britton. The Seahawks punter, Jon Ryan, left a lot of yards on the field for his salary but he was one of the best in the league at precision punting.

So it would appear that along with plenty of new starters on offense and defense next year, we will have at least one new specialist on the team next year - a new punter.