Nania’s Numbers breaks down New York Jets punter Lachlan Edwards’s 2019 season through stats galore.
Career recap: To say the least, 2015 was a disastrous season for the Jets’ punting unit. The Jets ranked last in the league in punt unit DVOA (Football Outsiders’ all-encompassing value metric) by a wide margin, posting a mark of -17.9 that was well behind any other team in the league. Ryan Quigley ranked 31st out of 32 qualifiers in net yards per punt (36.5), while the Jets allowed the second-most punt return touchdowns (two) and third-most yards per punt return (12.7).
What made the unit’s performance especially detrimental is that it consistently came up small in the biggest moments. Darren Sproles took a punt to the house for Philadelphia in a game the Jets wound up losing by one score. When Quigley missed his lone game of the season, Steve Weatherford came off the street to replace him and punted awfully in a close loss at New England. Dwayne Harris returned a punt for a touchdown in a game the Jets nearly lost to the Giants. In the Jets’ heartbreaking Week 17 loss at Buffalo, Quigley shanked a 20-yard punt that set up an easy Bills touchdown.
It was a horrifying unit to watch — bad enough to make the punter position a clear need heading into the 2016 offseason.
With the 235th overall pick in the seventh round of the 2016 Draft, the Jets found their man, taking Aussie punter Lachlan Edwards out of Sam Houston State. It was the first time the Jets had drafted a specialist since taking Craig Hentrich in the eighth round of the 1993 Draft.
Later, they signed fellow Aussie and two-time Ray Guy Award (best punter in college football) winner Tom Hackett as an undrafted free agent out of Utah, setting up a punting competition between the fellow countrymen.
Edwards wound up winning the competition and went into Week 1 of his rookie season as the Jets’ punter and holder. His career got off to a rocky start. In 2016, Edwards ranked last in net punting average (37.3) while the Jets again placed last in punting DVOA, with a mark even worse than the prior season (-21.1).
Special teams coordinator Brant Boyer and the Jets stuck with Edwards going into 2017, and he showed improvement, rising to 19th in net average (40.5). The punt return unit stepped a bit closer to competency, tying for 23rd in punting DVOA (-6.0).
Edwards took another leap in 2018, ranking 13th in net average (40.8). For the first time since 2014, the Jets registered a positive punting DVOA (+2.8), on the strength of an improved coverage unit that allowed the 12th-fewest yards per punt return (7.6). It was the first time since 2011 the Jets had ranked in the top half of that category.
2019 expectations: The Jets gave Edwards some competition in the offseason, bringing in one of Adam Gase‘s former punters in Miami, Matt Darr. Darr stuck around throughout the preseason, but Edwards won out to maintain his punting and holding duties.
Since Brant Boyer took over the special teams unit in 2016, he has overseen substantial progression each season. The punt unit has been a large part of that. Boyer was handed a group that was horrendous in 2015, and needed to build it from the ground up around a rookie punter. Things started off roughly, but Boyer stuck with Edwards while continuing to develop more contributors to the coverage unit (don’t sleep on Thomas Hennessy, who leads long snappers with 10 punt tackles since entering the league in 2017).
After finally returning to decency in 2018, the expectation was for the Jets to continue progressing and reach the upper echelon of punting value in 2019.
Positives: In 2019, Edwards and the punt team took a step up yet again. Edwards ranked 12th in net average with a career-best 41.6 average. As a group, the punt unit skyrocketed to fourth in DVOA (+10.1).
Edwards saved his best punt of the season for last. He dots this one at the Buffalo five-yard line, getting a perfect vertical bounce. Darryl Roberts downs it to pin the Bills deep.
While Edwards did not produce a ton of those pinpoint dots inside of the five, he did do a nice job of working in tandem with the coverage team. He led the NFL with 18 downed punts, ranking fourth among qualified in punters with 20.7% of his punts being downed by a teammate.
Negatives: I am guessing this will be the first time that you have heard a punter described this way, but Edwards is an enigmatic player. While there has been steady progress in his net yardage numbers and the punting unit’s DVOA, there are other statistics suggesting Edwards actually remains a bottom-tier punter despite his apparent improvement.
Pro Football Focus is not quite as high on Edwards as us Jets fans tend to be. PFF graded him as the 29th-best punter out of 32 qualifiers in 2019, handing him a 57.7 grade. That has been the norm, as PFF ranked Edwards 30th in 2018 (52.5), 26th in 2017 (58.4), and 33rd in 2016 (50.0). You can read about how PFF grades punters here.
Coming out of college, Edwards was seen as having a stronger-than-average leg, but also some mechanical deficiencies that led to inconsistent hang-time in spite of his high-upside power.
In the NFL, Edwards has consistently ranked near the bottom in average hang-time. He placed 30th in 2019 (4.19 seconds), 29th in 2018 (4.15), 30th in 2017 (4.18), and 18th in 2016 (4.35).
However, it is worth considering that this could largely be a result of the awful Jets offense. Because of the unit’s ineptitude over his career, Edwards has gotten few opportunities to attempt sky kicks from the mid-field range (which would likely drive up his hang-time), while he has frequently been asked to drive the ball from deep in his own territory. Still, it is a bit of a worrying sign to see him ranked near the bottom on a yearly basis.
Edwards’ lack of hang-time could be the reason he produced fair catches at the league’s lowest rate in 2019 (14.9% of punts).
Edwards also allowed 50.6% of his punts to be returned, the fourth-highest rate in the league. He has ranked in the top half of the category in each of his four seasons, peaking at No. 2 in 2018 (51.2%).
Perhaps these issues help explain the Jets’ lack of commitment to Edwards heading into the year.
2020 Outlook: Edwards’ rookie contract is up, and he is set to hit unrestricted free agency.
The Jets are left with an interesting decision here. While the advanced numbers on Edwards are worrying, the simple fact is that his leg was behind one of the league’s best punting units in 2019. His control and ability to make things manageable for the coverage team was praised coming out of Sam Houston State, and that seems to have translated to the NFL. He has not been posting the flashiest individual numbers, but he is doing enough right to spearhead an efficient unit.
It is possible that Edwards’ insufficient personal statistics are a legitimate sign that he has been made to look better by factors out of his control. Should these numbers be truly indicative of his performance level, it would strongly suggest that his recent success is unsustainable, and that eventually, he will sink the unit. If that is what Boyer and the coaching staff believe, they are right to either move on or bring in competition, even if it is difficult for us on the outside to see the exact reasoning.
With that said, punting has now been a non-issue for the Jets in two consecutive seasons, and that is the most important thing to accomplish with any special teams unit. Re-signing Edwards and riding him until the roof caves in is probably the best way to go.