Can Texas A&M product Braden Mann become one of the best punters in football with the New York Jets?
Despite the Jets ranking fourth in punting DVOA this past season, Joe Douglas and Brant Boyer decided they wanted to set their sights a little higher. Lachlan Edwards was just fine, but he was hardly a difference-maker, and there are a lot of numbers suggesting that he was carried by his coverage unit and some good old fashioned luck. Stark regression may have been in his future if the Jets stuck with him.
Instead of re-signing Edwards (who remains on the open market), the Jets used the 191st overall pick in the sixth round of the draft to select Texas A&M punter Braden Mann. The Houston native won the Ray Guy Award (nation’s best punter) in 2018 and was named First-Team All-SEC in each of the last two seasons.
Can Mann become one of the league’s punting superstars and help the Jets maintain their special teams dominance? Or, will moving on from the steady Edwards prove to be a mistake?
Mann has got some muscle in that right leg of his. A lot of it.
At Texas A&M, Mann’s game was all about distance. He was consistently able to boot the ball so far that it didn’t matter if he out-kicked his coverage team. The net yardage would still be excellent even if a few extra return yards were picked up.
Here are all of the impressive Mann factoids I could dig up:
- 48.9 career yards per punt is best in NCAA (minimum 100 punts) since 2000 (the earliest data is available) and 1.9 yards per punt ahead of second-ranked Ryan Stonehouse (Colorado St.)
- 51.0 yards per punt in 2018 stands as the best single-season mark in the nation since 2000 (minimum 30 punts). It is a full 2.0 yards per punt ahead of second-ranked Tom Malone’s 2003 season (USC)
- 47.1 yards per punt in 2019 ranked 4th in the nation and stands at 35th since 2000
- 60.8 yards per punt at Alabama in 2018 set NCAA single-game record (minimum 5 punts), was broken in 2019 by Arizona State’s Michael Turk (63.0)
- Owns 4 of the top-50 and 2 of the top-4 single-game punting average marks since 2000 (minimum 5 punts)
- 5 career games with 53.0+ yards per punt (minimum 5 punts) is tops since 2000 (no other player has more than 3)
- 14 punts of 60+ yards in 2018 is NCAA record
- Texas A&M led the FBS (130 teams) with 44.7 net yards per punt in 2018 and ranked 27th in 2019 (40.4)
You probably noticed that Mann’s gross distance numbers declined in 2019. That is largely because he was able to channel his power and be more efficient with placement in his senior season.
Mann dropped 22 of 57 punts inside of the opponent’s 20-yard line in 2019, a 38.9% rate. That was a substantial improvement over his 26.0% rate in 2018 (13/50).
In addition, Mann only kicked four touchbacks in 2019 (7.0%), a big step up from the nine he launched in 2018 (18.0%).
Involvement in coverage
Mann picked up 11 tackles over the past two seasons, with four in 2018 and seven in 2019. He even forced a fumble on this punt in 2018:
The last punter to have seven tackles in one NFL season was Pat McAfee, who did it for the Colts back in 2011. In 2019, the NFL leader at the position was Cameron Johnston with three.
Perhaps Mann’s incredible quickness for the position is what enables him to make so many plays in coverage. Mann’s 7.03 time in the three-cone sits at the 99th percentile among punters, as does his 4.13 time in the 20-yard shuttle. He also played linebacker in high school, so he has clearly carried that nose for the football to his new position.
Although Mann did offset his dip in distance with substantial improvement to his inside-the-20 and touchback rates in 2019, advanced tracking suggests that his decline was real.
In 2018, Texas A&M led the FBS in Football Outsiders’ punting efficiency, which takes into account numerous situational factors to deduce the true value of each punt. The second-ranked team (Cincinnati) didn’t even come close. Mann’s punting truly was a deadly weapon that season. His outrageously deep kicks were entirely beneficial and caused little to no harm.
In 2019, Texas A&M tumbled down to 71st in punting efficiency with a slightly above average score.
The decline is interesting. Mann’s primary question mark is whether he can avoid out-kicking his coverage. Yet, he was far more efficient when blasting the ball in 2018 than he was with a lesser distance average in 2019.
Texas A&M’s decrease in punting efficiency may not have been Mann’s fault. In 2019, the Aggies allowed 15.6 yards per punt return, third-most in the FBS. They allowed a much more respectable average of 8.1 in 2018, which ranked 76th-fewest (42nd percentile). Those marks are the contrary of what logic suggests should have happened, which would be for the Aggies to allow more return yardage when Mann was booting the ball further and vice versa.
The ideal reality for the Jets would be this – Mann’s drop-off in efficiency can be fairly attributed to his coverage unit while in actuality he became an even better punter by coupling his meteoric power with improved precision. Only a look at the tape can reveal whether that is true, and it seems what the Jets saw was enough to feel comfortable about pulling the trigger.
Time will tell if the Jets get a decent punter or the unstoppable force that shredded through the SEC in 2018. Regardless of what Mann becomes, he is certainly one of the most accomplished punter prospects to ever come into the NFL.
A Jets special teams unit that has posted a top-five DVOA rating in back-to-back seasons just saw its ceiling rise even higher.