clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

2020 NFL full season punting review

How did Sam Martin do as the Denver Broncos punter in 2020 compared to the rest of the league?

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images

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. Right? 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.

Since 1994 there have been only fourteen men who have punted the ball at Mile High for the Broncos. They have grossed 45.3 yards per punt. They punted 909 times for us. About half of those punts (477) came from two guys, Tom Rouen and Britton Colquitt.

Punter Punts Yds Lng Y/P
Brett Kern 34 1700 64 50.0
Sam Martin 40 1903 69 47.6
Britton Colquitt 209 9787 65 46.8
Todd Sauerbrun 57 2609 66 45.8
Marquette King 13 594 66 45.7
Riley Dixon 72 3274 68 45.5
Colby Wadman 68 3057 60 45.0
Tom Rouen 268 11920 71 44.5
Paul Ernster 38 1686 61 44.4
Sam Paulescu 5 221 51 44.2
Mitch Berger 25 1073 64 42.9
Micah Knorr 70 2943 66 42.0
Jason Baker 9 350 48 38.9
Jason Elam 1 17 17 17.0
Totals 909 41134 45.3

Opposing punters at Mile High have averaged 46.3 yards per punt. There are eighteen opposing punters during this time period that averaged 50.0 yards or better on punts at Mile High. There are five who averaged 55.0 yards or better.

I have no idea why opposing punters have done better than Bronco punters when punting in Denver. I’m interested to here theories on this from you, if you have them. Enquiring minds want to know.

As I do every off-season, I analyze every punt using my punt percentage metric. 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 2020 (all 1888 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). I did factor in the return yards allowed even though that can be more of a function of the coverage team, I also subtracted 20 yards from the gross distance of any touchback. Touchbacks can also be the result of poor play by the coverage team. If you want to see the spreadsheet for the 2020 season, let me know and I will send a link. Data for this was pulled from stahead.com and nfl.com

For example, a punt from your own 40 has an optimal result of getting downed at the 1. So the potential yards are 59. If the punter hits a punt that is fair caught at the 15, the actual punt yardage is 45. 45 divided by 59 equals 76%. It is possible to get more than 100% on a long-field punt. If you are punting from your own twenty and hit a punt that is downed at the 10, that is a 70 yard punt. 70 divided by 65 is 108%.

So every punt gets a score - punt percentage, which measures what percentage of the potential yards a punter got on a given punt. Blocked punts count as 0% since the net yards are 0. Punts returned a long way can actually give negative numbers. However the total number of punts that were blocked and that were returned for TDs in 2020 was 21 so those occurrences did not skew the data very much. The average punt % for each punter is tallied and punters are ranked by this as well as more standard metrics.

Sam Martin was brought in as a free agent because Colby Wadman fared poorly as the Bronco punter in 2019. Wadman was so bad in 2019 that he was out of the league in 2020. Wadman was actually worse in 2019 than three former Bronco punters who were all still in the league last year (as well as in 2020).

From a ranking perspective, Martin was one of the better punters in the league in 2019. PPP is precision punt percentage. PPP is inside the 10 percentage minus touchback percentage.

Here are Martin’s rankings for 2019

  • punt percentage - 5th
  • net punt average - 13th
  • gross punt average - 17th
  • inside 20 percentage - 14th
  • inside 10 percentage - 9th
  • inside 5 percentage - 5th
  • touchback percentage (lowest would be 1st) - 31st
  • PPP - 20th
  • fair catch percentage - 16th

Here are his 2020 ranks

  • punt percentage - 17th
  • net punt average - 14th
  • gross punt average - 10th
  • inside 20 percentage - 27th
  • inside 10 percentage - 24th
  • inside 5 percentage - 10th
  • touchback percentage (lowest would be 1st) - 13th
  • PPP - 20th
  • fair catch percentage - 29th

I should also note that Martin had the highest percentage in the league for punts that went out of bounds. He had sixteen punts go out of bounds while Tress Way for Washington had zero. Punts can be sent out of bounds by design. It would appear that Tom McMahon was calling for Martin to punt the ball out of bounds much more often than other special teams coaches around the league.

Martin was worse or equivalent in every ranking up there with the exception of gross punt average where he improved from 17th to 10th.

The team that was the best in the league at using their punter to maximize field position was the Patriots. The Chargers were the worst by far.

Rank TEAM Average punt %
1 NWE 79.4%
2 SEA 76.9%
3 DET 75.7%
4 WAS 74.3%
5 BUF 73.7%
6 LVR 72.1%
7 JAX 71.9%
8 BAL 71.6%
9 HOU 71.1%
10 KAN 71.1%
11 SFO 70.9%
12 NOR 70.8%
13 CIN 70.6%
14 CAR 70.6%
15 CLT 70.3%
16 TEN 70.2%
17 DEN 69.3%
18 PHI 69.2%
19 PIT 69.2%
20 CHI 69.1%
21 LAR 69.1%
22 ARI 68.9%
23 MIA 68.7%
24 NYG 68.4%
25 TAM 68.0%
26 DAL 67.9%
27 ATL 66.8%
28 CLE 66.6%
29 GNB 65.8%
30 NYJ 62.2%
31 MIN 61.1%
32 LAC 57.4%

for those who like graphics here is a chart showing punt percentage from best to worst.

You can see that most NFL punters in 2020 were going to get roughly seventy percent of the potential yards on a given punt. The league average in punt percentage was 69.7. The standard deviation was 4.3. That means that any team above 74.0 or below 65.4 was a significant outlier (which the graph shows). Interestingly enough there were three outliers on the good side and three on the bad side.

Martin’s 69.3 punt percentage was just a little below league average. However, a 17th place ranking is still an improvement over what we have gotten from our punters over the last five seasons.

Year Punter(s) Potential Yds Net Yds Punt % Punt % Lg Rank
2010 B. Colquitt 5001 3145 62.9% ?
2011 B. Colquitt 5998 4058 67.7% ?
2012 B. Colquitt 3853 2822 73.2% ?
2013 B. Colquitt 3802 2559 67.3% ?
2014 B. Colquitt 4045 2597 64.2% ?
2015 B. Colquitt 5032 3336 66.3% 21
2016 Dixon 5870 4068 69.3% ?
2017 Dixon 4173 3013 72.2% 28
2018 King/Wadman 4445 3258 73.3% 21
2019 Wadman 4617 3070 66.5% 26
2020 Martin 3943 2734 69.3% 17

The three good outliers in terms of punt percentage were the Patriots, Seahawks and Lions. The three bad outliers were the Jets, Vikings and the Chargers.

The Patriots punter, Jake Bailey, led the league in punt percentage, net punt average, return percentage (lowest), inside 20 percentage, inside the 10 percentage and PPP. He was named to the Pro-Bowl and first team All-Pro in 2020. No other punter led the league in more than one good category. Bailey was a fifth round pick for New England in 2019. 2020 was his second year in the league. The punter who was second team All-Pro in 2020 was Jack Fox, he was a rookie. In 2018, Michael Dickson made first team All-Pro as a rookie.

The group of punters in the NFL has long been a club that was hard to break into and easy to stay in once you get in. That may have changed in recent years. Prior to 2018, the last time we had a rookie or a second year punter make AP first or second team All-Pro was Johnny Hekker in his second season in 2013. You have to go back to 2001 to find another instance, Shane Lechler in his second season.

In case you are wondering, Sam Martin had a better year than Riley Dixon (Giants) and Britton Colquitt (Vikings) in 2020. The only former Bronco punter who outperformed Martin was Brett Kern for the Titans and that’s debatable (see below)