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NFL Punting Review: Riley Dixon struggled in 2017

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How did Riley Dixon perform in 2017 and why did the Denver Broncos sign Marquette King.

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Denver Broncos v Los Angeles Chargers Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images

When you boil it down to its essence, the job of the punter (and the coverage team) is to make the other team start their drive as far back as possible. So to that end, I evaluated every punt in the NFL in 2017 (all 2445 of them) to determine how much of the “potential yards” the punter gained for his team on each punt. I divided the field into two punting regions: long-field punts (from inside your own 35) and short-field punts (from your own 35 and beyond). On long-field punts, you assume that your punter can just punt the ball as far as possible without worrying about a touchback (although he does have to worry about out-kicking the coverage, so hang-time is critical). So, I have set the “optimal result” on long-field punts to a 65 yard gross punt.

I did not factor in the return yards allowed since that can be more of a function of the coverage team, but I did subtract 20 yards from the gross distance of any touchback. If you wish to adjust for return yards allowed, let me know and I will send you my spreadsheet. Data for this was pulled from pro-football-reference.com, nfl.com and profootballfocus.com.

On short-field punts, I set the optimal result as downing the ball at the opponent’s one yard line. For example, against Washington, Riley Dixon was called on to punt from the opponent’s 35 yard line. A 34 yard punt would have been the optimal result. Dixon’s punt went 26 yards and they started their drive at the nine. So for that punt, Dixon’s performance score was 26/34 or 76.5 percent. In other words, he “gained” 76.5 percent of the possible yards on that play for the Denver Broncos.

So here is a table with the average punt percentage for every team (the Detroit Lions had two punters during the year) followed by a graph. The range of the average punt percentage is 79.2 percent (Shane Lechler of the Houston Texans) to 68.8 percent (Brad Wing of the New York Giants).

Rank TEAM Punt% Punt% StDev
1 HOU 79.2% 12.4%
2 TEN 78.5% 13.9%
3 LAR 78.2% 12.2%
4 NO 78.1% 11.0%
5 ARI 77.7% 11.3%
6 OAK 77.4% 13.5%
7 LAC 77.3% 12.1%
8 CHI 76.9% 12.2%
9 CLE 76.6% 15.3%
10 NYJ 76.3% 12.4%
11 CAR 75.7% 12.5%
12 DAL 75.6% 12.5%
13 WAS 75.4% 12.1%
14 CIN 75.1% 13.4%
15 BAL 75.0% 15.9%
16 KC 74.4% 13.7%
17 PIT 74.4% 12.4%
18 MIN 74.1% 11.5%
19 MIA 74.0% 12.6%
20 ATL 73.8% 11.9%
21 SEA 73.6% 13.0%
22 BUF 73.5% 11.9%
23 NE 73.4% 12.3%
24 SF 73.1% 10.4%
25 PHI 72.8% 15.1%
26 IND 72.6% 13.1%
27 TB 72.3% 17.6%
28 DEN 72.2% 17.4%
29 DET 72.0% 13.0%
30 JAX 71.7% 16.0%
31 GB 71.5% 12.7%
32 NYG 68.8% 17.4%

Notice the Dixon was 28th in this ranking. Not accounting for any advantage altitude should have provided him, this is a failing result.

There is not much turnover in the ranks of punters in the NFL year over year. (Britton Colquitt and Brett Kern are still punting for other teams in the league.) However, it is bottom of the league performances, like ranking 28th, that get you kicked out of the fraternity of NFL punters.

While Dixon was not very good at putting our defense in optimal situations, he was also not very consistent. His average standard deviation on his punt percentage was second worst in the league. I will note that the Giant’s punter, Brad Wing, was by far the worst punter in the league this year from this analysis. I will also note that Marquette King was 6th in the league in punt percentage in 2017, so by this metric he should be a huge upgrade over Dixon.

So did Dixon maybe do well in other areas that didn’t show up in the punt percentage evaluation? Was he was great at forcing fair catches or getting massive hang-time to minimize returns or punting to a specific spot? Let’s look at that (and many other things) in this next rather huge table.

Rk Player Team Punts Net Avg Blk IN 20 in20% in10 in10% TB TB% FC FC% PPP Ret RET% RetY Avg Ret Y Allowed
1 Brett Kern TEN 75 44.6 0 28 37.3% 9 12.0% 5 6.7% 9 12.0% 5.3% 40 53.33% 286 7.2
2 Johnny Hekker LAR 65 44.3 0 30 46.2% 11 16.9% 4 6.2% 12 18.5% 10.8% 25 38.46% 152 6.1
3 Marquette King OAK 69 42.7 0 28 40.6% 15 21.7% 6 8.7% 15 21.7% 13.0% 32 46.38% 205 6.4
4 Rigoberto Sanchez IND 84 42.6 1 28 33.3% 14 16.7% 3 3.6% 27 32.1% 13.1% 19 22.62% 80 4.2
5 Michael Palardy CAR 71 42.4 0 25 35.2% 12 16.9% 4 5.6% 21 29.6% 11.3% 30 42.25% 176 5.9
6 Thomas Morstead NO 60 42.2 0 26 43.3% 14 23.3% 2 3.3% 18 30.0% 20.0% 24 40.00% 249 10.4
7 Jeff Locke DET 27 42.2 0 11 40.7% 5 18.5% 0 0.0% 11 40.7% 18.5% 11 40.74% 82 7.5
8 Justin Vogel GB 71 41.6 0 19 26.8% 5 7.0% 2 2.8% 24 33.8% 4.2% 29 40.85% 164 5.7
9 Chris Jones DAL 66 41.4 0 34 51.5% 22 33.3% 5 7.6% 20 30.3% 25.8% 18 27.27% 75 4.2
10 Shane Lechler HOU 92 41.3 0 32 34.8% 17 18.5% 5 5.4% 22 23.9% 13.0% 49 53.26% 608 12.4
11 Bradley Pinion SF 75 41.3 0 31 41.3% 10 13.3% 1 1.3% 23 30.7% 12.0% 33 44.00% 138 4.2
12 Drew Kaser LAC 74 41.3 0 27 36.5% 13 17.6% 9 12.2% 6 8.1% 5.4% 48 64.86% 319 6.6
13 Dustin Colquitt KC 65 41.1 0 29 44.6% 6 9.2% 5 7.7% 22 33.8% 1.5% 24 36.92% 164 6.8
14 Kevin Huber CIN 88 40.8 1 32 36.4% 15 17.0% 3 3.4% 23 26.1% 13.6% 43 48.86% 410 9.5
15 Matt Bosher ATL 53 40.8 0 19 35.8% 8 15.1% 2 3.8% 22 41.5% 11.3% 22 41.51% 179 8.1
16 Matt Haack MIA 83 40.7 0 30 36.1% 15 18.1% 5 6.0% 20 24.1% 12.0% 35 42.17% 220 6.3
17 Britton Colquitt CLE 80 40.6 1 24 30.0% 13 16.3% 2 2.5% 13 16.3% 13.8% 45 56.25% 482 10.7
18 Donnie Jones PHI 67 40.6 1 21 31.3% 10 14.9% 5 7.5% 14 20.9% 7.5% 25 37.31% 171 6.8
19 Lac Edwards NYJ 94 40.5 0 33 35.1% 16 17.0% 4 4.3% 23 24.5% 12.8% 49 52.13% 491 10.0
20 Ryan Allen NE 58 40.5 0 24 41.4% 9 15.5% 3 5.2% 14 24.1% 10.3% 23 39.66% 105 4.6
21 Colton Schmidt BUF 79 40.5 0 28 35.4% 11 13.9% 6 7.6% 16 20.3% 6.3% 38 48.10% 210 5.5
22 Sam Koch BAL 84 40.3 1 40 47.6% 22 26.2% 3 3.6% 18 21.4% 22.6% 34 40.48% 277 8.1
23 Riley Dixon DEN 73 40.2 2 23 31.5% 9 12.3% 3 4.1% 23 31.5% 8.2% 30 41.10% 258 8.6
24 Jordan Berry PIT 64 39.8 0 26 40.6% 16 25.0% 2 3.1% 24 37.5% 21.9% 23 35.94% 177 7.7
25 Pat O'Donnell CHI 87 39.7 0 27 31.0% 15 17.2% 6 6.9% 15 17.2% 10.3% 49 56.32% 512 10.4
26 Andy Lee ARI 88 39.7 0 29 33.0% 16 18.2% 8 9.1% 13 14.8% 9.1% 48 54.55% 506 10.5
27 Bryan Anger TB 65 39.5 1 24 36.9% 11 16.9% 5 7.7% 21 32.3% 9.2% 27 41.54% 153 5.7
28 Ryan Quigley MIN 71 39.2 0 29 40.8% 16 22.5% 0 0.0% 33 46.5% 22.5% 24 33.80% 213 8.9
29 Tress Way WAS 83 39.0 0 33 39.8% 12 14.5% 6 7.2% 26 31.3% 7.2% 39 46.99% 435 11.2
30 Brad Nortman JAX 87 38.9 1 29 33.3% 14 16.1% 9 10.3% 25 28.7% 5.7% 30 34.48% 228 7.6
31 Jon Ryan SEA 92 38.8 0 29 31.5% 12 13.0% 6 6.5% 19 20.7% 6.5% 45 48.91% 452 10.0
32 Sam Martin DET 41 37.6 0 13 31.7% 7 17.1% 6 14.6% 12 29.3% 2.4% 14 34.15% 116 8.3
33 Brad Wing NYG 95 36.7 2 19 20.0% 12 12.6% 9 9.5% 20 21.1% 3.2% 43 45.26% 448 10.4

So where did Dixon rank in terms of all these other metrics? He was 23rd in net punt average. He was 28th at pinning the opponent inside the 20. He was pretty good at forcing fair catches—nineth, but was not very good at pinning the opponent inside the 10 (30th out of 33). He was 22nd in touchback percentage and his precision punt performance (PPP) was also 22nd. PPP is calculated by subtracting the touchback percentage (4.1 percent) from the “in10%” percentage (12.3 percent). Thus, Dixon’s PPP is 8.2 percent. PPP basically shows how effective the punter was (as well as the punt coverage team) at pinning the opponent deep in his own territory without getting touchbacks.

It’s interesting to note that Dustin Colquitt was worst in the league in PPP this season mostly because he was poor at pinning the opponent inside the 10. (He ranked 31st.) This is something that he has excelled at in the past.

So how did King and Dixon compare head to head in terms of rankings in 2017?

Net Punt AVG FC% avg ret allowed in20% in10% TB% PPP
Dixon 23rd 9th 22nd 28th 30th 12th 22nd
King 3rd 22nd 11th 11th 6th 28th 10th

So what does PFF have to say about Dixon’s performance in 2017?

According to them, Dixon was 27th out of 33 with an overall grade of +6.0 for the season. Thomas Morsted of the New Orleans Saints graded out the highest for the season at +41.5, while former Bronco Brett Kern was second with a +40.5 and current Bronco Marquette King was 3rd with a +34.5. Only two full-time punters graded out negatively for the entire season in 2017, Ryan Allen of the New England Patriots and Brad Wing of the Giants.

Poll

After seeing this data, how do you feel about the Broncos signing Marquette King to a sizable free agent contract?

This poll is closed

  • 55%
    much better
    (794 votes)
  • 28%
    better
    (404 votes)
  • 12%
    ok
    (177 votes)
  • 1%
    worse
    (19 votes)
  • 2%
    much worse (I’m related to Riley)
    (30 votes)
1424 votes total Vote Now