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2021 NFL full league punting analysis

How did Sam Martin compare to other punters in the league at maximizing field position?

NFL: Denver Broncos at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

As I do every off-season, I look at every punt and determine how the punter did (and the punt coverage team) on each of them. The job of the punter is to maximize field position, but how do we determine how well each punter does that. Just looking at gross or net punt yardage misses most of the context. Using punt percentage (PP) score keeps that context.

This analysis is based on two premises

  1. For long-field punts (inside your own 35), the optimal result is a 65 net yard punt. So if the LOS is your own 20, then the other team takes over at their own 15. This would be scored at 100 percent (65 net yards/65 potential yards).
  2. For short-field punts (your own 35 or beyond), the optimal result is downing the ball at the one. So on a punt from mid-field, that would be a 49 yard net punt. That would get a score of 100 percent (49 net yards/49 potential yards).

So each punt gets a punt percentage score. Then I average that score for every team (most only have one punter who punts for them in a year), and see which punter (and punt coverage team) did the best job at maximizing field position. So let’s dive into the punt percentage analysis for 2021.

Rank Team AVERAGE Punt % Net Avg
1 Cowboys 74.7% 44.6
2 Ravens 73.1% 40.0
3 Jaguars 72.9% 43.3
4 Seahawks 72.8% 41.7
5 Rams 72.6% 42.6
6 Chiefs 72.6% 43.1
7 Raiders 72.3% 42.5
8 Broncos 71.9% 42.8
9 Commanders 71.3% 41.3
10 Texans 71.1% 41.7
11 Saints 71.0% 42.0
12 Dolphins 70.9% 40.1
13 Lions 70.9% 42.3
14 Jets 70.0% 41.5
15 Colts 69.0% 39.7
16 Bengals 68.9% 41.0
17 49ers 68.8% 40.7
18 Falcons 68.8% 40.3
19 Patriots 68.3% 39.6
20 Packers 68.0% 40.0
21 Cardinals 67.8% 41.8
22 Vikings 67.7% 40.8
23 Titans 67.6% 39.8
24 Giants 67.5% 39.5
25 Buccaneers 67.2% 38.4
26 Bills 66.7% 37.6
27 Eagles 66.4% 38.7
28 Bears 65.9% 38.5
29 Panthers 65.4% 38.3
30 Browns 65.2% 38.3
31 Steelers 64.5% 38.4
32 Chargers 61.7% 36.5

The range for the league was from the best punter in the league, Bryan Anger for the Cowboys, at 74.7 percent to the worst punter in the league, Ty Long of the Chargers, at 61.7 percent. Sam Martin was 8th with a score of 71.9 percent. Interestingly, Martin’s net average was fourth in the league at 42.8 yards. If you look at the plot of both average punt percentage and average net punt (below), you find some interesting things.

The most interesting thing to me from this graph is that the Cowboys punter, Anger, was a step above the rest of the league, while the Chargers punter, Long, was a step below. While there was some differentiation in the other 30 punters, it was a fairly tight grouping.

I also found it interesting that Sam Koch for the Ravens looked much better by PP than he did by net average. Conversely, Long, looked much worse by PP than he did by net average (although he was still dead last - just not as far back of 31st place). Most punters had a blue bar that was shorter than their orange bar, but Long’s was the largest difference. Koch was the only punter with a blue bar that was significantly larger than his orange bar. Martin and the punter for the Dolphins, Michael Palardy, also had this but the difference was smaller.

Of course there are other measures of punt performance that are readily found such as percentage of punts inside the 20, percentage of fair catches forced and percentage of punts ending in a touchback. While the touchback data is baked into the PP value, the other two are not. You want to minimize touchbacks while maximizing the other two. Minimizing touchbacks while maximizing punts downed inside the 10 get you to the precision punt percentage, PPP.

Rank Team Net Avg PPP IN 20% IN 10% IN 5% OOB% TB% FC% Ret%
1 Colts 39.7 19% 41% 20% 5% 12% 2% 25% 47%
2 Buccaneers 38.4 18% 42% 21% 8% 13% 3% 34% 37%
3 Jets 41.5 17% 33% 19% 3% 17% 1% 24% 41%
4 Eagles 38.7 16% 31% 22% 5% 11% 5% 22% 44%
5 Saints 42 16% 35% 20% 11% 8% 5% 22% 52%
6 Jaguars 43.3 15% 39% 18% 6% 13% 3% 42% 31%
7 Broncos 42.8 13% 42% 18% 6% 13% 4% 36% 36%
8 Cowboys 44.6 12% 37% 18% 0% 8% 6% 37% 38%
9 Rams 42.6 12% 45% 14% 6% 16% 2% 49% 18%
10 Vikings 40.8 12% 33% 15% 5% 14% 4% 19% 50%
11 Packers 40 11% 34% 19% 6% 17% 8% 23% 40%
12 Titans 39.8 10% 34% 14% 9% 19% 3% 28% 38%
13 Texans 41.7 10% 42% 15% 7% 8% 5% 25% 51%
14 Raiders 42.5 9% 44% 20% 2% 11% 11% 27% 44%
15 Dolphins 40.1 8% 40% 14% 9% 5% 6% 35% 38%
16 Chiefs 43.1 8% 53% 15% 13% 13% 8% 23% 43%
17 Ravens 40 7% 37% 13% 3% 14% 6% 23% 44%
18 49ers 40.7 7% 37% 15% 3% 12% 8% 27% 34%
19 Chargers 36.5 6% 26% 11% 0% 13% 4% 11% 64%
20 Falcons 40.3 6% 37% 14% 5% 14% 8% 26% 40%
21 Browns 38.3 6% 31% 10% 4% 19% 4% 22% 45%
22 Panthers 38.3 5% 26% 10% 1% 5% 4% 34% 47%
23 Commanders 41.3 5% 35% 16% 8% 8% 11% 24% 44%
24 Bears 38.5 5% 31% 13% 5% 5% 8% 21% 55%
25 Bengals 41 5% 33% 14% 6% 15% 9% 23% 42%
26 Giants 39.5 4% 32% 12% 3% 11% 8% 20% 38%
27 Steelers 38.4 4% 34% 9% 4% 19% 5% 25% 42%
28 Bills 37.6 4% 35% 17% 6% 15% 13% 21% 33%
29 Cardinals 41.8 4% 23% 13% 6% 8% 10% 15% 58%
30 Seahawks 41.7 4% 48% 16% 4% 7% 12% 27% 39%
31 Lions 42.3 3% 26% 14% 8% 3% 11% 15% 54%
32 Patriots 39.6 2% 47% 14% 6% 16% 12% 27% 33%

So here are Sam Martin’s ranks for various other measures by which a punter’s performance can be measured:

  • inside the 20 % - 8th
  • inside the 10 % - 10th
  • inside the 5 % - 11th
  • touchback % - 10th
  • fair catch % - 4th
  • precision punt percentage (inside 10% - touchback %), PPP - 7th

So by every measure I can see, Sam Martin was in the top tier of punters in the league in 2021. This was much better than he did in his first season in Denver. Martin literally improved in every stat and some by a large amount. He went from 29th in fair catch percentage in 2020, to fourth in 2021. In 2020 only 20 percent of his punts were fair caught. In 2021 that nearly doubled to 35.8 percent. The link above has the 2020 data and links to my data going back to the 2017 season if you want to see those.

The range on forcing fair catches was quite large. Johnny Hekker of the Rams forced a fair catch on almost half of his punts (49 percent) while Long only forced one on 10.6 percent of his. On an absolute numbers basis, Long forced five fair catches while Hekker forced twenty-five.

Martin’s PPP was also great this season after being 20th in 2020 with the Broncos and in 2019 with the Lions. I would tend to attribute some of that to improved coverage by the punt team in 2021 relative to 2020, the other part might be attributed to improved hangtime from Martin. If someone has a PFF subscription, please let me know how Martin did comparatively in hang-time. That is the one piece of data that does not seem to be available except behind pay-walls. In 2020 the Broncos allowed 8.1 yards per punt return and that value was down to 6.4 in 2021 (which was third best in the league - only the Bills at 5.6, and the Chiefs at 4.9 allowed fewer return yards on average).

For PPP, I chose to use inside the 10 percentage not inside the five percentage, because in my opinion, downing one inside the five is more a matter of lack than skill. We can discuss this in the comments if you wish. There were only three punters who had more than five downed inside the 5: Blake Gilliken of the Saints (9), Michael Palardy of the Dolphins (7) and Cameron Johnston of the Texans (6). Of course, Johnston also led the league in total punts with 88 which meant that he was eighth in inside the five percentage, despite being third in the total number inside the five. The Chiefs had the best inside the five percentage at 12.5 percent, partly because their punters only punted 40 times (Tommy Townsend had 37 of those). Oddly enough the Chiefs only had six total downed inside the ten, meaning that five of their six that were downed inside the ten were downed inside the five. Was that luck or skill?

Gilliken of the Saints had seventeen punts downed inside the 10, but on a percentage basis that was only third best in the league behind the punter for the Eagles, Arryn Siposs (21.8 percent), and the Punters for the Buccaneers (mostly Bradley Pinion) at 21.0 percent.

It’s possible that the Broncos could part ways with Sam Martin this off-season to save some money, but I doubt that a cheaper punter will perform as well in 2022 as Martin did in 2021. Right now, Martin is the 12th highest paid punter in the league according to overthecap.com. Punters don’t get paid much relative to other positions. The highest paid punter in the league for 2022, Michael Dickson, as of right now will have a cap number of 4.4 million. His average yearly salary is 3.7 million. Bryan Anger, who was the best punter in the league in 2021 by punt percentage, was also one of the lowest paid at 1.1 million with a cap number of 850k. 850k is what Ty Long made in 2021 and he was the worst punter in the league.

Poll

Do you think it wise to bring release Sam Martin in order to save money?

This poll is closed

  • 15%
    Yes - a cap savings of $2.25MM is worth it
    (22 votes)
  • 84%
    No - he’s definitely earning his $2.7MM cap hit
    (116 votes)
138 votes total Vote Now