Punters are people too! Welcome to the second specialist position review of the week. I decided to do kickers and punters together because they have a lot in common. They’re the only ones at their position on a team, and both positions are constantly overlooked despite having great impacts on the game. Therefore, in this article, we’ll be looking at the top 10 punters going into the 2022 season. A good punter can flip the field and cause opposing offenses to start possessions within their own red zone. Some games, particularly defensive struggles, can come down to field position; in those cases, the better punter puts his team at a major advantage. Many punters also handle kickoff duties, but that’s not considered in these rankings because I won’t penalize players who don’t perform that role simply because their kicker teammates are so good. Having a big leg is important, but I’d rather have someone who averages 45 yards per punt and drops them inside the 10 than a punter who averages 50 yard per punt and results in a bunch of touchbacks. I notice this intro is long. Good! Punters deserve it. But on we go!
1. Michael Dickson, Seahawks
Becoming a Pro Bowler and a first-team All Pro player as a rookie is almost unheard of, but that’s what Dickson did. His three years since then have been just as good, albeit without the same type of recognition. It’s expected of him now. He seems to have mastered the art of the corner kick, pinning opponents inside the 20 with regularity; he did so 40 times last year, more than anyone else. Dickson also excels at angling his kicks toward the sideline when necessary, preventing returners from even thinking about catching the ball and running with it. With Seattle entering a rebuilding phase after the trade of Russell Wilson, Dickson may be called upon with more regularity in the coming months.
2. AJ Cole, Raiders
The reigning AFC Pro Bowl and first-team All Pro punter, Cole has a rocket of a leg; his average punt traveled 50 yards, tops in the NFL, and his longest punt was 71 yards. He landed almost half of his punts inside the 20, and his net punting average of 42.5 yards was also strong. Cole’s one weakness is that his punts don’t seem to hang in the air for too long, causing the ball to land before his teammates make it downfield. This led to him ranking second-to-last in average punt return allowed (12.2 yards; only Blake Gillikin was worse). The good outweighed the bad though, as the Raiders wisely extended him after the 2021 season.
3. Jack Fox, Lions
I might be rating Fox slightly low here. His 2020 season was amazing. He set several Lions franchise records that year, including net yards per punt (44.8), culminating in a Pro Bowl berth as a rookie. However, his 2021 was slightly below that level. Fox still showed off his big leg (he had a career-high 70-yard punt), and he remained entrenched in the top 3 in yards per punt (49.2). It was his accuracy that took a slight hit, as he allowed 7 touchbacks and 35 returnable punts. There’s a bit of bad bounce luck to that though upon watching the film, so I think 2020 is a truer representation of his abilities.
4. Brian Anger, Cowboys
Anger has been a steady punter for a decade now, but he enjoyed the best season of his career in 2021, his first year with Dallas. He set career highs in average punting (48.4 yards) and net average punting (44.6 yards), and he had only 4 touchbacks (a career low). All of this was good enough for his first Pro Bowl appearance and a second-team All-Pro nod. His 2020 with the Texans was his second-best year, making me think that maybe he just needed a dome stadium to play his best (JAX/TB, where he spent the first 8 years of his career, do not have domes). That suggests that his newfound success could be here to stay.
Matt Araiza, Bills
I know; I have nerve ranking a rookie who hasn’t taken a single regular season snap in my top 10. Hear me out though. Araiza seems like the best punter to come out of college in at least the last 10 years. He possesses a game-changing ability to flip the field from just about anywhere. In his very first preseason game, he punted the ball from his own 18…and recorded a touchback. The ball didn’t bounce until it hit inside the 10. That’s an 82-yard punt with a net of 62. Leg strength brought him fame, but his accuracy is strong, too. They don’t call him the “Punt God” for nothing.
UPDATE: Araiza has been released by the Bills in response to rape allegations.
6. Johnny Hekker, Panthers
The best way to prevent runbacks is to make your punts unreturnable. Nobody did that better than Hekker, who had just 8 punts returned all year long for a measly 60 yards. His kicks didn’t go quite as far as those of some other punters, but that’s fine if almost your entire punt distance is net yardage. The spread between Hekker’s average and net average was just 1.7 yards, lowest among all players. Wherever his ball came to rest or went out of bounds was just about where the opposing offense could expect to take over. Extra credit for being the best fake punt passing punter in the league.
7. Cameron Johnston, Texans
Practice makes perfect they say, and Johnston had more of that than any other punter in the league; he punted the ball 87 times as a result of the Texans’ offensive ineptitude. That let him rack up some major counting stats, such as 36 punts downed inside the 20 (2nd in NFL), 3670 net punting yards (1st), and 4105 total punting yards (1st). Impressively, he only recorded 4 touchbacks all season, and he didn’t lead the league in return yards allowed despite his high volume of kicks. Johnston should get even more practice next year, as the Texans look hopeless once again.
8. Logan Cooke, Jaguars
Another punter who got a ton of practice last year, Cooke was one of the few Jaguars worth mentioning from the train wreck that was Urban Meyer’s team. He was second in the league with his net 45 yards per punt, and his 1 total touchback was tops among all players. Cooke landed 27 punts inside the 20, and he ranked second with 26 fair catches. His field flipping ability was necessary, as the Jaguars went 3 and out with alarming regularity. Trevor Lawrence should improve this year with a legitimate head coach, so perhaps Cooke won’t be as busy in 2022, but he’ll still be good.
9. Tommy Townsend, Chiefs
Punting far is good. Punting far while hitting your spots is better. One metric for tracking the latter statement is a player’s net punting average, where Townsend ranks first at 46.3 yards. That’s more than a full yard clear of the next-best average. His gross punting average was 49.8 yards, good for second place. The only disclaimer I must give about these numbers is that Townsend punted only 35 times last year, fewest in the league among full-time starters, even though he played 16 games. Hey, it’s not his fault that Andy Reid’s offense is too good for punting most of the time.
10. Sam Martin, Broncos
Martin’s stats need to be adjusted a bit in my book due to playing at Mile High, but even so, he played very well last year. He actually didn’t blow everyone away in the distance categories despite the thin air, suggesting that he doesn’t have the biggest leg in the league. However, he made up for it with placement, ranking fifth in punts downed inside the 20 (28) and fourth in fair catches (24). He also only had three touchbacks in 2021. Russell Wilson’s arrival should mean a bit less punting this season, but when called upon, Martin will deliver.