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Full league punting analysis shows Colby Wadman had a down year

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In the normal and the advanced punting stats, Colby Wadman fared poorly in 2019 for the Denver Broncos and should be replaced in 2020.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Denver Broncos Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

You would think that Denver should be a haven for punters. Playing half of your games at roughly one mile above sea level, should make it easier to do you job. Generally you should be able to get more distance on your punts at elevation than at sea level.

Unfortunately for the Denver Broncos, this does not appear to be the case. Bronco punters have fared poorly over the past decade both in Denver and on the road while opposing punters seem to thrive at elevation. Oddly enough, former Bronco punters seem to excel after they leave the Broncos. Brett Kern, who has punted for the Titans since Josh McDaniels fired him mid-way through the 2009 season, has made the Pro-Bowl the past three seasons. Riley Dixon and Dustin Colquitt also had much better seasons than Colby Wadman.

So I’m going to cut to the chase for those who want to get the quick takeaway (Wadman was not very good) and who want to skip the in depth analysis which will come after. Punt percentage is percentage of actual yards “gained” divided by possible yards “gained” by the punter (explained later). LTR% is percentage of punt yardage lost to returns and touchbacks. PPP is precision punt percentage which is percentage of punts downed at or inside the 10 minus percentage of punts that ended in a touchback. TB% is touchback percentage. RET% is percentage of punts that were returned. FC% is percentage of punts that ended in a fair catch.

Wadman’s best ranking in these stats was 17th. It gets worse, though. All three former Bronco punters led the league in a stat (or were really close). Kern led the league in precision punting. Dixon was second in percentage of punts downed at or inside the 5 and Colquitt led the league in touchback percentage (he punted 62 times without a single touchback). B. Colquitt was the only punter in the league to not have a touchback in 2019.

The only stat where Wadman was better than any of the three former Bronco punters was fair catch percentage where he was 18th while Kern and Dixon were 24th and 23rd. Colquitt was 3rd in that stat.

In-depth Punting Stat Discussion

All of the data for this was captured from NFL.com and Pro-football-reference.com.

At the core the job of the punter is to make the best of a defeat. When you punt, you are admitting that the opponent’s defense stopped you from doing what you wanted to do on offense (or you stopped yourself). Failing to score on a drive is a failure; and punting is admitting you lost the battle (but that you still hope to win the war - if you pardon war analogy). So when you punt from anywhere on the field, the best possible outcome is downing the ball at the one yard line, thereby forcing the opposing offense to travel 99 yards in order to score a touchdown.

On every punt there is a set value of potential yards that the punter can “gain”. For long field punts (inside your own 35), I set that value at 65 yards. Many teams did not have a punt of that length in 2019 so that works as the ideal value on long-field punts. This means that it is possible to get a value greater than 100% on long-field punts. The longest punt of the year, by Washington’s Tress Way, was 79 yards. That punt alone had a value of 122%. Wadman’s long this season was 64.

For short field punts, the ideal outcome is downing the ball at the one. So on a punt from the 50, there is the potential for the punter to “gain” 49 yards. If the punter hits a touchback (for a net of 29 yards), then the punter has a punt percentage of 59.2 on that particular punt. Looking at the total net yards that a punter gained divided by the total potential yards that the punter could have gained gives us a holistic view of how every punter in the league performed.

Rank TEAM Punt %
1 HOU 74.4%
2 TEN 73.7%
3 NO 72.7%
4 JAX 72.5%
5 DET 72.4%
6 WAS 72.1%
7 NE 72.0%
8 CIN 71.7%
9 MIN 71.7%
10 PHI 71.4%
11 LAR 71.0%
12 NYG 70.9%
13 SEA 70.4%
14 CLE 70.1%
15 SF 69.6%
16 OAK 69.6%
17 PIT 69.4%
18 IND 69.0%
19 NYJ 69.0%
20 MIA 68.9%
21 BAL 68.7%
22 KC 68.6%
23 LAC 68.0%
24 GNB 67.9%
25 CHI 67.9%
26 DEN 66.5%
27 ARI 66.4%
28 BUF 65.9%
29 TB 65.4%
30 CAR 65.1%
31 DAL 62.8%
32 ATL 58.1%

Notice that with the exception of the punters in Atlanta (there were three) and the punter in Dallas, all of the punters in the league were in the range of 65 to 75 percent. Houston had two punters, Bryan Anger and Trevor Daniel who combined to lead the league in punt percentage. They “gained” 2451 of a possible 3294 yards - 74.4 percent. On the other end of the spectrum, the three punters in Atlanta, Ryan Allen, Kasey Redfern, and Matt Bosher, combined to only “gain” 1749 of a possible 3010 yards - 58.1 percent. I did not break it down to compare the three but by their net averages of 37.5, 36.9, and 36.7 yards, they were all terrible in 2019.

Precision Punting

In the past I have broken out the analysis of short-field and long-field punts. I am not going to do that this year (unless there is a large contingent of readers who wants to see it). On short-field punts (at or beyond team’s 35 yard line), some punters are coached to maximize hang-time in order to give the coverage team more time to get down the field and to force fair catches. This can lead to a reduction in gross punting yards, but an increase in punts downed inside the 20, 10 and 5. It also generally leads to a reduction in percentage of punts that are returned.

Similarly some punters are coached to aim for the sidelines on short-field punts. This also leads to a reduction in return percentage and touchback percentage (unless the punter misses terribly). Touchbacks are a minor negative outcome for punters because while 20 yards of field position is significant, it was not as significant as you might think in 2019. Drives starting at the 20 or better in 2019 ended in scores 28.9 percent of the time (18.0 TD, 10.9 FG). Moving that to the 15 cuts the percent of scoring drives down to 26.6 (15.6 TD, 10.8 FG). If you make that the five, the value actually hardly changes to 26.7 percent (20.3 TD, 6.4 FG). So in 2019 it would seem that starting field position on drives, at least deep in your own territory, did not have a great affect on scoring percentage. For perspective, 36.6 percent of all drives in 2019 ended in a score (22.3 TD, 14.3 FG).

Psychologically though, starting a drive inside your own five (particularly on the road), seems so much more daunting than starting a drive at your own 20. Wadman and the punt coverage team were not very good at pinning teams deep - ranking 21st in percentage inside the 20, 17th at percentage inside the 10, and 27th at percentage inside the 5. Our coverage team also allowed two punt return touchdowns this season.

There were only eight in the NFL in 2019. The Panthers allowed three and the Broncos allowed two. No other team allowed more than one. From a total yardage perspective, Wadman lost 11.4 percent of his potential yardage on returns (314) and touchbacks (4 x 20 = 80). 100 of those 314 return yards were from the two punt return TDs our coverage team allowed this season. Taking out those two TD returns, the Broncos only allowed 214 return yards on the other 30 returns (7.1 yards per punt return). That would have been a little above average as the average punt return in 2019 gained 7.5 yards. The Panthers allowed a league worst 12.2 yards per punt return. The Texans were the best in the league allowing a paltry 3.4 yards per punt return.

The Texans coverage only allowed 82 yards on punt returns and the two punters for the Texans only had two touchbacks on the season (40 lost yards) so the total yards lost to returns and touchbacks for the Texans was only 122 on the season. For comparison, Michael Palardy for the Panthers lost 487 yards to returns (427) and touchbacks (3 x 20 = 60).

Wadman’s punts forced Bronco opponents to start 29 drives at the 20 or worse, 12 drives at the 10 or worse, and 3 drives at the 5 or worse. On those three drives where he forced the opponents to start inside the five: one ended in a TD (vs OAK in game 1), and the other two ended in punts (vs JAX and vs IND). Oddly enough Denver lost all three of those games.

Full Data table

Team Punts Yds Net Yds Lng Avg Net Avg Blk OOB OOB% Dn IN 20 in20% IN 10 in10% IN 5 in5% TB TB% PPP FC FC% Ret RET% RetY TD ave RET
ARI 6 291 265 55 48.5 44.2 0 0 0% 1 2 33% 1 17% 0 0% 4 67% 6 0 1.50
ARI 61 2,913 2,555 64 47.8 41.2 1 6 10% 5 21 34% 4 7% 15 25% 31 51% 278 1 8.97
ARI (Total) 67 3204 2820 1 6 9% 6 23 34% 8 12% 3 4% 5 7% 4% 15 22% 35 52% 284 1 8.11
ATL 28 1,172 1,050 59 41.9 37.5 0 4 14% 5 14 50% 3 11% 8 29% 8 29% 62 0 7.75
ATL 9 371 332 54 41.2 36.9 0 1 11% 0 3 33% 0 0% 3 33% 5 56% 39 0 7.80
ATL 9 377 367 52 41.9 36.7 1 0 0% 0 2 22% 0 0% 7 78% 2 22% 10 0 5.00
ATL (Total) 46 1920 1749 1 5 11% 5 19 41% 14 30% 5 11% 3 7% 24% 18 39% 15 33% 111 0 7.40
BAL 40 1,855 1,632 62 46.4 39.8 1 6 15% 5 21 53% 7 18% 3 8% 4 10% 8% 10 25% 15 38% 143 0 9.53
BUF 79 3,313 3,016 67 41.9 37.7 1 15 19% 13 34 43% 12 15% 4 5% 7 9% 6% 26 33% 18 23% 157 0 8.72
CAR 75 3,452 2,905 62 46 38.7 0 9 12% 7 25 33% 16 21% 3 4% 3 4% 17% 16 21% 40 53% 487 3 12.18
CHI 80 3,586 3,299 75 44.8 40.7 1 4 5% 13 26 33% 14 18% 6 8% 2 3% 15% 26 33% 35 44% 247 0 7.06
CIN 75 3,394 3,158 63 45.3 42.1 0 6 8% 10 30 40% 17 23% 5 7% 5 7% 16% 30 40% 24 32% 136 0 5.67
CLE 63 2,913 2,662 71 46.2 41.6 1 8 13% 12 28 44% 7 11% 2 3% 5 8% 3% 18 29% 20 32% 151 0 7.55
DAL 50 2,079 1,885 58 41.6 37 1 3 6% 9 18 36% 6 12% 1 2% 2 4% 8% 18 36% 18 36% 154 0 8.56
DEN 78 3,464 3,070 64 44.4 39.4 0 12 15% 9 29 37% 12 15% 3 4% 4 5% 10% 21 27% 32 41% 314 2 9.81
DET 76 3,445 3,175 62 45.3 41.8 0 5 7% 13 31 41% 15 20% 7 9% 7 9% 11% 22 29% 29 38% 130 0 4.48
GB 77 3,386 3,073 66 44 39.9 0 12 16% 10 29 38% 13 17% 4 5% 4 5% 12% 25 32% 26 34% 233 0 8.96
HOU 45 2,094 2,001 71 46.5 44.5 0 1 2% 9 24 53% 2 4% 16 36% 17 38% 53 0 3.12
HOU 11 479 450 54 43.5 40.9 0 0 0% 1 2 18% 0 0% 3 27% 7 64% 29 0 4.14
HOU (Total) 56 2573 2451 0 1 2% 10 26 46% 14 25% 4 7% 2 4% 21% 19 34% 24 43% 82 0 3.42
IND 59 2,619 2,433 60 44.4 41.2 0 6 10% 9 22 37% 10 17% 4 7% 1 2% 15% 15 25% 28 47% 166 0 5.93
JAX 75 3,507 3,340 66 46.8 44.5 0 12 16% 11 25 33% 12 16% 3 4% 2 3% 13% 26 35% 24 32% 127 0 5.29
KC 48 2,126 1,977 68 44.3 40.3 1 1 2% 11 21 44% 4 8% 0 0% 3 6% 2% 14 29% 19 40% 89 0 4.68
LA 66 3,128 2,838 71 47.4 42.4 1 14 21% 10 22 33% 10 15% 2 3% 5 8% 8% 14 21% 23 35% 190 0 8.26
LAC 48 2,256 1,964 60 47 40.9 0 2 4% 3 17 35% 4 8% 1 2% 2 4% 4% 8 17% 33 69% 252 0 7.64
MIA 69 3,105 2,836 62 45 41.1 0 6 9% 12 23 33% 11 16% 3 4% 2 3% 13% 20 29% 29 42% 229 0 7.90
MIN 62 2,802 2,644 59 45.2 42.6 0 6 10% 9 24 39% 13 21% 6 10% 0 0% 21% 24 39% 23 37% 158 0 6.87
NE 81 3,638 3,343 65 44.9 41.3 0 17 21% 12 36 44% 13 16% 5 6% 6 7% 9% 18 22% 28 35% 175 0 6.25
NO 60 2,770 2,584 64 46.2 43.1 0 7 12% 7 29 48% 11 18% 4 7% 1 2% 17% 21 35% 24 40% 166 0 6.92
NYG 69 3,178 3,002 62 46.1 42.3 2 9 13% 17 29 42% 13 19% 7 10% 2 3% 16% 17 25% 24 35% 136 0 5.67
NYJ 87 3,991 3,622 63 45.9 41.6 0 9 10% 18 28 32% 8 9% 5 6% 3 3% 6% 13 15% 44 51% 309 0 7.02
OAK 67 3,081 2,643 74 46 39.4 0 3 4% 8 33 49% 15 22% 5 7% 6 9% 13% 20 30% 30 45% 318 0 10.60
PHI 71 3,292 3,005 61 46.4 42.3 0 7 10% 9 28 39% 13 18% 7 10% 4 6% 13% 19 27% 32 45% 207 0 6.47
PIT 74 3,368 3,023 69 45.5 40.9 0 5 7% 12 24 32% 10 14% 3 4% 4 5% 8% 24 32% 29 39% 265 0 9.14
SEA 74 3,341 3,028 63 45.1 40.9 0 8 11% 9 34 46% 16 22% 5 7% 5 7% 15% 18 24% 34 46% 213 1 6.26
SF 52 2,333 2,162 65 44.9 41.6 0 5 10% 9 23 44% 10 19% 3 6% 2 4% 15% 13 25% 23 44% 131 0 5.70
TB 57 2,464 2,182 63 43.2 38.3 0 2 4% 9 19 33% 11 19% 3 5% 3 5% 14% 18 32% 25 44% 222 0 8.88
TEN 78 3,672 3,363 70 47.1 43.1 0 18 23% 9 37 47% 22 28% 6 8% 2 3% 26% 19 24% 30 38% 269 0 8.97
WAS 79 3,919 3,485 79 49.6 44.1 0 5 6% 12 30 38% 15 19% 6 8% 4 5% 14% 19 24% 39 49% 354 0 9.08

Conclusions

A team’s punter can be a true weapon. Brett Kern was one of the reasons why the Titans were able to upset the Patriots in Foxborough on Saturday. He punted six times and forced the Patriots offense to start four of those drives inside the 20 (at their own 13, 11, 7 and 1 yard lines). None of those four Patriot drives ended in a score; three punts and one in an interception. So, yeah, Kern played a big role in the Titans’ win. In a similar manner, Britton Colquitt was a weapon for the Broncos in the 2015 playoffs in our most recent Super Bowl run. Colquitt punted twenty-three times and ten of those forced the opponent to start their drives inside their own 20. Seventeen of those twenty three forced the opponent to start their drive inside their own 30.

A punter who is a weapon would be nice to have in 2020. Three former Bronco punters punting better with other teams give me hope that Wadman may yet develop into an above average punter. He was not one in 2019 and I am not overly optimistic that he will be one in 2020 if he is still our punter.

In terms of gross average, opposing punters average 48.2 yards per punt in Denver. For comparison, 2020 free agent punter, Sam Martin, averaged 52.2 for the Lions against us. Wadman’s Gross average was 45.3 on his 44 punts at Mile High this season.

Punter Punts Yds Gross Average
Colby Wadman 44 1994 45.3
Brett Kern 9 424 47.1
Logan Cooke 6 273 45.5
Dustin Colquitt 6 266 44.3
Pat O'Donnell 5 287 57.4
Sam Martin 5 261 52.2
Ty Long 4 181 45.3
Jamie Gillan 3 160 53.3
A.J. Cole 3 124 41.3
Opposing Punter Stats in Denver 41 1976 48.2

Poll

What should the Broncos do at punter for 2020?

This poll is closed

  • 2%
    Keep Wadman, he sucks, bit he’s cheap
    (12 votes)
  • 13%
    Go with Trevor Daniel, who Denver signed to a reserve future contract
    (83 votes)
  • 20%
    Sign a free agent punter
    (125 votes)
  • 27%
    Draft a punter
    (163 votes)
  • 35%
    find one as an undrafted college player after the 2020 draft
    (215 votes)
598 votes total Vote Now