Why a Punter Should Never Be Drafted

Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports

Why A Punter Should Never Be Drafted


Has anyone been paying attention to our rookie punter Jeff Locke this season?  Well I have, and he hasn't been passing the eye test for me.  So, I decided to dig a little deeper.  According to John Matich of the Kicking System (the owner and coach of a training center dedicated to kicking), he's skeptical of how kickers are evaluated at the combine:

I believe you want to evaluate their mental side of the game as well.  How does a kicker react to having a bad-kicking day?  How will he perform if he misses a kick with a head coach standing next to him? I would make the kickers compete with each other multiple times and see who comes out on top.

I have concluded, the majority of professional coaches don't know anything about kicking, combined with archaic testing protocols.  We can't forget to mention all the talent that did not get invited to the combine. What does tell you about the NFL and its kicking game?

The article is a little old, since they mentioned the prototypical size of Zoltan Mesko and how he could actually get drafted, and he was that year.  The Patriots selected him in the 5th round of the 2010 draft.  However, he was cut by the Patriots this season after under-performing and was picked up by the Steelers.  Today the Steelers announced via Twitter that Mesko had been released.  He graded out as the worst punter in the NFL by Pro Football Focus with a -3.8 grade.

So where does that leave our own Jeff Locke?  The situation feels eerily familiar.  Like Mesko, Locke was drafted in the 5th round, and so far, he's the 31st ranked punter in the NFL by PFF out of 34 possible punters with a -1.3 grade.  His hang time numbers are below average, and most troubling is that his punts are allowing the 6th most return yards in the NFL.  Some of that could be on special teams coverage units, but he also ranks tied for 20th for punts downed inside an opponent's 20 and is below average in net yards gained per punt.  The thing Locke was most known for coming out of the draft was having a HUGE leg, and that is evidenced by the only stat in which he appears in the top 10: tied for 8th with a longest punt of 65 yards.  Do you know who else is tied for 8th in that stat?  Zoltan Mesko.

When the 5th round came up for our Minnesota Vikings last year, we could have chosen any of the following  players, who were still on the board:

CB Micah Hyde, limited snaps for Green Bay
RB Zac Stacy, now starting for the Rams
RB Andre Ellington, now starting for the Cardinals
RB Mike James, now starting for the Bucs
S Bacari Rambo, limited snaps for Washington

There are many others.  But the moral of the story here is NEVER DRAFT A PUNTER when other players can be had that can have an impact on a team.  There are so many punters available in free agency, it's almost ridiculous.  The draft is such a crap-shoot anyway, that you're much better off spending that pick on a position that has a greater impact on the field.  To prove my point, you know who else drafted a punter last year?  The Detroit Lions, about 10 picks after us.  They chose Sam Martin, who wasn't nearly as highly regarded as Locke in the draft.  And guess what, he's the 6th rated punter this season according to PFF.  Maybe they look like geniuses for taking Martin in the draft, but the fact is both of those guys probably could have been picked up as undrafted free agents, and they would have had just as much likelihood of panning out the same way.  The variability and success rate of drafting a punter is very much hit or miss, almost exactly 50/50 returns over the past 5 years.  Here are the most recently drafted punters and their Pro Football Focus rankings thus far in 2013:

Name

Round Drafted

Pro Football Focus Ranking

Bryan Anger

3rd Round, 2012 Jaguars

26th

Brad Nortman

6th Round 2012, Panthers

8th

Matt Bosher

6th Round 2011, Falcons

4th

Zoltan Mesko

5th Round 2010, Patriots

34th,  Not in League

Brent Bowden

6th Round 2010, Bucs

Not in League

Matt Dodge

7th Round 2010, Giants

Not in League

Kevin Huber

5th Round 2009, Bengals

9th

Thomas Morstead

5th Round 2009, Saints

3rd

Pat McAfee

7th Round 2009, Colts

5th

Durant Brooks

6th Round 2008, Packers

Not in League


Let's hope that Jeff Locke can turn it around before the season is over and can be a hit for the Vikings, instead of a miss.

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