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Mythbusting: Is Riley Dixon playing poorly?

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Denver Broncos fans have been kind of bagging on Riley Dixon lately, but is he really playing as poorly as people think? We dug into his performance here.

NFL: Denver Broncos at Tampa Bay Buccaneers Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I was probably the loudest critic of Britton Colquitt when he was the Denver Broncos punter. I generally backed that criticism with data. So far I have been hearing folks in Broncos Country saying that Dixon has been just as bad as Colquitt was last season. That is not the case. Here are some facts about Dixon's performance. First let's explore why our perception at this point might be that "Dixon sucks".

Comparison to our Opponent's Punters

While Dixon has been good and remarkably consistent (more on this later), he has been out-punted by the opposing team's punters. Through seven games, the comparison looks like this if you break it down by numbers of punts that grossed a certain distance

Riley Dixon has not hit the booming punts that our opponent’s punters have. He has two punts that grossed more than 58 yards. Our opponent’s punters have 11. What he has done is that he has been extremely consistent with his punting; 22 of his 34 punts have grossed between 40 and 50 yards - 65%. So while he is not hitting the really jaw-dropping 70 yard punts, he is also not shanking any for less than 30 yards (so far at least). His shortest grossing punt is 36 yards (that was the one that was almost blocked last game). In the word of statistics we would say that he he has a low standard deviation on his punts. So he is averaging 46.0 yards (gross) per punt, but that is with a standard deviation of 6.2.

To put that in perspective, opponent’s punters have a gross average of 51.5 yards per punt with a standard deviation of 11.2. I don’t know if the lack of distance is by design (sacrificing distance for hang-time to help our coverage units), but if it is, then Dixon is most definitely doing his job.

Relative to other Punters in the league here is how Dixon ranks so far this year in terms of other metrics:

  • 9th in net punting average (41.4 yards)
  • 16th in gross punting average (46.0 yards)
  • 17th in % downed inside the 20
  • t-24th in touchback %
  • 16th in fair catch % (it’s generally better if you punter is forcing fair catches - hangtime)

In almost all of these metrics, Dixon is doing better this year than Colquitt did last season. It’s also useful to note that three of the seven opponents have punters with a better net punting average than Dixon so far- IND (5th, 43.3), ATL (6th, 43.2), TB (7th, 43.0). In other words, we’ve faced some good punters.

Comparison to 2015 Colquitt

So far this year Dixon has 34 punts. Colquitt had 85 in the regular season in 2015. So to do a proper comparison we have to scale Dixon’s 34 punts to 85. If you do that you get a chart that looks like this to compare Dixon’s performance to 2015 Colquitt.

In terms of long punts (gross distance), Dixon is performing at about the same level as Colquitt in 2015. He is doing that without the shanked punts though. Colquitt had a gross average of 43.6 yards (27th in the league) and a net average of 39.5 (21st in the league). Much of those low numbers for Colquitt can be directly attributed to his eight punts that grossed 33 yards or less. Dixon’s shortest grossing punt this season is 36 yards. Colquitt has 11 punts last season that grossed less than 36 yards.

For what its worth, here are Colquitt’s ranks from 2015 for the other stats listed above:

  • 29th in % of punts downed inside the 20
  • 14th in touchback %
  • 27th in fair catch %

I also have to point out that Colquitt was making $2 million last season and was scheduled to make $4 million this year. As a 7th-round draft pick, Riley Dixon is making $450k - which is league minimum.

So this myth is busted.

Riley Dixon is actually performing fairly well, particularly if he is being asked to sacrifice distance for hang time. Right now there is no NFL stat site that tracks average hang-time. I wish that there were, because it would allow us to determine how Dixon compares to other punters league-wide in terms of hang-time. I would guess that he is near the top of the league, but that is just the feeling that I have gotten from watching out seven games this season.