What are some of the skills that Braden Mann needs to master to become an elite punter for the New York Jets?
The New York Jets’ punting unit was just fine behind the right leg of Lachlan Edwards. Brant Boyer‘s squad ranked fourth in punting DVOA this past season and 14th the season prior. No return touchdowns or blocked punts were allowed by the unit.
However, through the selection of Ray Guy Award winner Braden Mann at No. 191 overall, Joe Douglas signaled that his team has its sights set higher than “just fine” at the punter position. When a punter is skilled enough to warrant the usage of a draft selection for his services, the expectation is that he becomes great.
What does it take for a punter to separate himself from the pack?
Let’s dig through some of the key skills that Mann must perfect to reach elite status.
Landing punts inside the 10
There are few things in life more satisfying than watching a punter make the opposing offense’s job miserable by forcing them to start a drive with their backs against the wall. Elite punters excel at this.
The league records the number of punts that are landed inside of the opponent’s 20-yard line, but personally, I think there are a few issues with how this facet of punting is tracked.
Firstly, I think 20 yards is too far out if we are attempting to capture punts that truly make a difference. A punt from the opponent’s 45-yard line that is fair caught at the 19-yard line is not exactly world-shattering. The 10-yard line is a better benchmark for me – those are the punts that can be game-changing.
In addition, we need to consider the location from which punts are being launched. A punter can only pin his opponent inside the 10 from a certain range (realistically). If a certain punter is asked to punt from deep in his own territory more frequently than any other, he is naturally going to land a low percentage of his punts deep in opponent territory. The stat-sheet will suggest he is awful at pinning opponents deep simply because he gets few opportunities to do so, even though that is completely out of his control.
What we ultimately want to know is how well each punter fares at cornering his opponents when he is punting from a distance where it is reasonably possible. I patched up the previously mentioned issues to get that answer for the 2019 season.
The following chart displays the number of punts from each qualified punter that pinned the opponent at its own 10-yard line or deeper, counting only attempts from at least the punter’s own 40-yard line and beyond (based on line of scrimmage). Any yardage added or subtracted through penalties is excluded.
Here is a look at each punter’s performance with the 40-50 yard range (29.4% average conversion rate) and opponent territory (49.1%) punts split up. Also shown is the difference between each punter’s actual conversion rate and their expected conversion rate – which would be their mark if they succeeded at a league-average level in each range.
Brett Kern displays how to pin an offense with a beautiful pooch kick that drops in at the 3-yard line and offers plenty of time for his teammate to get underneath it.
Best known for his power, Mann improved this part of his game in 2019. Mastering the deep-pin is an essential part of becoming a difference-maker, so keeping that progression churning into 2020 will be vital for Mann.
Blending distance and hang time
When teams bring out their punter deep in their own territory, they want him to get back as many yards as possible – or flip the field, as many like to say.
The key to elite field-flipping is mastering the art of coupling lengthy distance with sky-high hang time. Too much of one without enough the other can be detrimental. A deep kick without adequate hang time to match the added distance will leave the coverage men at a disadvantage, as they do not get enough time to make it downfield, thus giving the returner ample room to operate. A hang time-focused kick designed to prevent a return can be shanked or fall short, costing the team chunks of yardage.
Here is a look at how each qualified punter in 2019 fared at combining distance and hang time. The punters received a rating from 0-to-10 for their distance and hang time averages (10 for the leader, 0 for the worst, all others scored relative to those two points) and are ranked by the combination of the two.