Braden Mann has plenty of power, but he needs to get more air under his kicks to make things easier for the coverage team.
Braden Mann flashed some highly intriguing potential in his NFL debut, but he still has some things to work on before he can hit his ceiling and become a legitimate weapon.
It all starts with hang time. As I explained in my breakdown of what makes up an elite punter, tremendous distance can only make a truly positive impact if it is coupled with adequate hang time. Out-kicking the coverage can lead to dangerous results. If you can push the ball deep down the field and give your coverage team enough time to thwart the return, then you can add a ton of real value.
On Sunday, Andre Roberts returned five of Mann’s six punts for 69 yards, an average of 13.8 per return. Minimum five returns, that’s the best average that a punt returner has posted against the Jets since Jacoby Jones dropped a 21.6 average (5 for 108) for the Ravens back in Week 12 of 2013. Minimum three returns, it’s the best since Jakeem Grant posted a mark of 16.0 (3 for 48) in Week 2 of 2018.
A big reason for Roberts’ success was the lack of hang time on Mann’s punts. While Mann posted a solid distance average of 46.3 yards, which would have ranked 10th-best among qualifiers in 2019, his average punt spent only 4.15 seconds in the air, which would have ranked third-worst last year. The NFL average was 4.35 seconds.
Distance raises upside, but it also raises risk. The further a punt travels, the more damaging it is for the kick to lack hang time, as line-drives give the returner plenty of room to operate.
Let’s take a look at Mann’s first six NFL punts, each of them launched into the swirling winds of Western New York that were recorded at up to 20 miles per hour during the game.
Punt #1: 4th & 7 at NYJ 12, 13:58 first quarter
Distance: 58 yards
Hang time: 4.20s
Return: 16 yards (1 tackler evaded)
Net: 42 yards
Following a penalty on the opening kickoff and an ensuing three-and-out, Mann gave Jets fans their first moment of the season to get excited about. He launched a 58-yard missile from the Jets’ 12-yard line that was hauled in by Roberts around Buffalo’s 30-yard line. From the spot of the kick, it traveled 68 yards down the field.
The 4.2 hang time is a bit lackluster, but with a distance that long, it’s good enough. If Arthur Maulet or Ashtyn Davis made the stop around the 36 or 37-yard line, the punt would have netted an excellent 51 or 52 yards, but both whiffed and allowed Roberts to go straight up the middle. Roberts picked up 16 yards to cut the net gain to a decent 42 yards.
That’s a solid one from Mann. If Davis or Maulet played it better, this could have been a net of 50-plus. I also have no idea why it took so long for the rest of the coverage team to get down there (will be able to see better once the All-22 angles are released).
However, Davis and Maulet were about 20 yards away from Roberts when he caught the ball. That is a tough play to make, especially smack in the middle of the field.
If Mann can tack a couple more tenths of a second in the air on to that kick, it would be an absolute beauty. Still, it’s an intriguing display of his leg strength on career attempt No. 1.
Punt #2: 4th & 9 at NYJ 20, 9:37 first quarter
Distance: 45 yards
Hang time: 4.90s
Return: 10 yards (2 tacklers evaded)
Net: 35 yards
This is a fantastic punt by Mann, easily his best of the day. He gets a solid 45 yards of distance and couples it with an outstanding hang time of 4.9 seconds. Additionally, he pins Roberts against the sideline to the boundary side (the side of the hash where the ball was snapped from) – beautiful location.
Mann cannot make it any easier for the coverage team to stop this return for no gain and a solid net of 45 yards, but three pursuers botch the play (Maulet and Thomas Hennessy miss while Tarell Basham is blocked into the Bills bench) and allow Roberts to tap-dance up the sideline for 10 yards. Nevertheless, this is an excellent punt by Mann that displays dazzling hang time and accuracy.