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2018 NFL punting review: punt percentage and precision punting

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What kind of punting performance did the Denver Broncos get in 2018 relative to the rest of the league?

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NFL: Pittsburgh Steelers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

Almost every off-season I take an analytical look at punting in the NFL in order to get a deeper understanding of how well our punter did relative to the rest of the league.

To rewind a little, the Broncos had Riley Dixon punting for us in 2016 and 2017. Dixon was a 7th round draft pick who performed well as a rookie (at least relative to other rookie punters in NFL history), but then regressed in 2017 to the point of being a liability. The Broncos were able to trade him to the Giants for a 7th round pick (conditional on Dixon being the Giants punter in 2018, which he was). The Giants had literally the worst punter in the league in 2017, Brad Wing. Wing was bad enough to get kicked out of the NFL punting fraternity and is now kicking in the AAF. Other former Bronco punters like Britton Colquitt and Brett Kern are still in the NFL and playing well (as you will see). Colquitt, the lesser, was punting for the Browns and Kern was punting for the Titans.

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 2018 (all 2214 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.

On short-field punts the optimal result is downing the ball at the one (or having it go out of bounds at the one). Late in the season, against the 49ers, the Broncos punted from the 50. The optimal result would have been a 49 yard punt. Wadman hit one that was downed at the 15 for a 35 yard punt: 35/49 = 71.4%. Wadman’s punt percentage on that punt was 71.4%. I performed that analysis for every punt and got both an average value and a standard deviation for every team in the league.

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. Touchbacks can also be the result of poor play by the coverage team. 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.

I am not allowed to show the entire table of average hang-time for punters (PFF does not like that), but I will give you an idea of where both Coby Wadman and Marquette King ranked in that stat since PFF tracks it.

Punt Percentage

The Broncos’ punters in 2018 ranked 21st in punt percentage with an average score of 73.3%. The standard deviation on the value was 12.1%. There were four teams that appeared to be a step above the rest: Arizona, Tennessee, LA Rams, and Baltimore. There were also five teams that were a step below the bulk of the league: Green Bay, LA Chargers, Buffalo, San Francisco and Oakland. For those who prefer to see that table it is below.

Rank Team AVE Punt % SD
1 Cardinals 78.1% 11.2%
2 Titans 78.0% 13.3%
3 Rams 77.6% 18.1%
4 Ravens 77.6% 14.9%
5 Potatoes 77.0% 12.2%
6 Seahawks 76.9% 19.0%
7 Eagles 76.7% 10.5%
8 Lions 75.9% 10.4%
9 Texans 75.4% 12.0%
10 Saints 75.3% 10.2%
11 Panthers 75.2% 12.6%
12 Colts 75.0% 13.2%
13 Patriots 75.0% 12.1%
14 Chiefs 74.1% 11.8%
15 Bears 74.1% 15.2%
16 Jaguars 74.0% 13.1%
17 Giants 73.9% 11.6%
18 Jets 73.7% 12.9%
19 Browns 73.5% 18.3%
20 Vikings 73.4% 15.6%
21 Broncos 73.3% 12.1%
22 Steelers 73.0% 13.2%
23 Bengals 72.8% 14.5%
24 Dolphins 72.8% 17.7%
25 Falcons 72.2% 16.3%
26 Cowboys 72.1% 10.2%
27 Buccaneers 72.0% 14.2%
28 Packers 70.6% 15.8%
29 Chargers 70.5% 17.4%
30 Bills 70.2% 16.2%
31 49ers 70.0% 13.3%
32 Raiders 69.6% 12.9%

For those who aren’t math nerds, standard deviation tells you how consistent a value is, so a smaller standard deviation means a more consistent punter. The Cowboys, Chris Jones, and the Saints, Thomas Morstead, were tied as the most consistent punters in the league in 2018 despite Morstead doing a much better job at maximizing field position than Jones did.

Kern, punting for the Titans, had a superb year. By punt% he was the second best punter in the league in 2018. He never had a year that good when he was punting for the Broncos.

Digging deeper into the data

So punters can also be measured on how frequently they force the opponent to start a drive inside the 20, the 10 or even the 5. They can be measured on how frequently the force the opposing returner to fair catch the ball and on how often their punts end in touchbacks. All of those pieces of data can be found in the table below. Precision punt percentage, PP%, is % of punts downed inside the 10 minus touchback %. It is a measure of how good a punter (and his coverage team) is (are) at forcing the opposing team to start a drive inside the 10.

Rank Team in5% in10% in20% TB% PP%
1 Titans 4.0% 26.7% 56.0% 4.0% 22.7%
2 Rams 11.6% 25.6% 55.8% 4.7% 20.9%
3 Potatoes 8.9% 20.3% 54.4% 0.0% 20.3%
4 Texans 6.8% 24.3% 56.8% 6.8% 17.6%
5 Seahawks 6.3% 20.3% 49.4% 6.3% 13.9%
6 Bengals 5.6% 18.1% 40.3% 4.2% 13.9%
7 Patriots 3.1% 20.3% 43.8% 7.8% 12.5%
8 Cardinals 5.3% 19.1% 42.6% 7.4% 11.7%
9 Ravens 6.6% 19.7% 54.1% 8.2% 11.5%
10 Steelers 6.3% 17.2% 53.1% 6.3% 10.9%
11 Lions 5.4% 16.2% 48.6% 5.4% 10.8%
12 Dolphins 5.7% 17.0% 50.0% 6.8% 10.2%
13 Eagles 1.6% 21.3% 52.5% 11.5% 9.8%
14 Colts 7.0% 17.5% 52.6% 8.8% 8.8%
15 Browns 8.2% 15.3% 45.9% 7.1% 8.2%
16 Vikings 4.1% 11.0% 42.5% 2.7% 8.2%
17 Jets 2.4% 13.4% 36.6% 6.1% 7.3%
18 Giants 5.6% 12.7% 39.4% 5.6% 7.0%
19 Saints 2.3% 16.3% 46.5% 9.3% 7.0%
20 Chiefs 4.4% 17.8% 62.2% 11.1% 6.7%
21 Panthers 3.3% 13.1% 49.2% 6.6% 6.6%
22 Falcons 3.2% 11.3% 43.5% 4.8% 6.5%
23 Chargers 4.8% 12.9% 41.9% 6.5% 6.5%
24 Bills 8.5% 14.6% 47.6% 8.5% 6.1%
25 Bears 9.5% 15.9% 58.7% 11.1% 4.8%
26 Jaguars 5.8% 12.8% 53.5% 8.1% 4.7%
27 49ers 1.4% 10.1% 39.1% 5.8% 4.3%
28 Cowboys 0.0% 6.7% 35.0% 3.3% 3.3%
29 Broncos 5.9% 11.8% 45.9% 9.4% 2.4%
30 Buccaneers 0.0% 8.6% 32.8% 6.9% 1.7%
31 Raiders 1.4% 7.1% 34.3% 7.1% 0.0%
32 Packers 2.8% 12.5% 41.7% 12.5% 0.0%

There were two teams in the NFL in 2018 that had a PP% of 0.0%, the Faiders and the Packers. In previous seasons that have been teams that ended with a negative value in this stat.

For those just interested in where the Broncos punters ranked overall on all of these things here is the table of ranks for our two punters.

Broncos Ranks 2018
PUNT% 21st
in5% 11th
in10% 26th
in20% 19th
TB% 28th
FC% 23rd
AVE RET allowed 29th
PP% 29th
AVE Hangtime Wadman 18th King 35th

Overall the picture is not good. The Broncos’ punters did not have a single combined stat where they ranked in the top 10 in the league and while we had a good percentage of punts downed inside the 5, that was offset by the high percentage of touchbacks. Despite the advantage of punting at altitude, neither Wadman nor King were in the top half of the league in terms of average hang-time (according to PFF). Wadman took over at the 21st punt of the season. If we look at the punt % for the Broncos chronologically, you can see that Wadman did appear to be nominally better than King, but from a numerical standpoint that only translated to 0.3% better.

If you trust PFF, they ranked Wadman as the 18th best punter in the league in 2018 with an overall grade of 64.3 out of 100 and King was the 23rd best punter in the league with an overall grade of 61.3. The worst punter in the league with more than a handful of games punting, was the Johnny Townsend, the Faider’s punter. His overall grade was 47.6. The best punter in the league according to PFF was Morstead with a grade of 79.0

Also, we should not lose sight of that fact that Wadman was a rookie. In theory he should improve when the Broncos bring him back for 2019. While his performance wasn’t great, it was marginally better than King’s and at a fraction of the cost. I expect the Broncos to bring in another punter to compete with Wadman in training camp, but I expect Wadman to win the starting job.

The coverage team didn’t do our punters any favors in 2018 allowing 9 returns of 10 or more yards including returns of 99, 51, 37 and 26 yards. While those were not factored into the punt percentage values they are poor and the hurt the net punt average for both of our punters.

Poll

How will our punting game be in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 57%
    Better than 2018 because Wadman will improve
    (112 votes)
  • 27%
    The same as 2018 - Wadman is a replacement level punter who most likely will not improve
    (54 votes)
  • 12%
    Better than in 2018 - we will find the next great punter as an UDCFA
    (25 votes)
  • 2%
    Worse than in 2018 - the new coaches will want to bring in their punter and he will be a downgrade
    (5 votes)
196 votes total Vote Now