Adding a better punter could improve the success of the Eagles

Al Bello

Punter is a usually overlooked position of need among NFL fans, but it is more important than most would think. In order to prove the punting game's importance, Mike Kaye performed a study on the success of punters in the net punting yards category and how it correlated with team and defensive success.

While some may consider it a luxury, a good punting game can pay off serious dividends to an NFL defense. In fact, of the the Top 10 net punting teams in 2012, half of the teams allowed 20 points or less and half of Top 10 teams made the playoffs. As the Eagles look to turnaround their defense and special teams, improving the punting game could go a long way toward both.

To better understand the importance of the punting game, let's look at the top punters in the punt net average business:

Punter Team Attempts Punt Average Punt Net Average Def Points Allowed (per game) Team Record
Andy Lee 49ers 67 48.1 (yards) 43.2 (yards) 17.1 (11-4-1)
Thomas Morstead Saints 74 50.1 43.2 28.4 (7-9)
Britton Colquitt Broncos 67 46.3 42.1 18.1 (13-3)
Kevin Huber Bengals 76 46.6 42 20 (10-6)
Dave Zastudil Cardinals 112 46.5 41.4 22.3 (5-11)
Brandon Fields Dolphins 74 50.2 41.2 19.8 (7-9)
Bryan Anger Jaguars 91 47.8 40.8 27.8 (2-14)
Dustin Colquitt Chiefs 83 46.8 40.8 26.6 (2-14)
Sam Koch Ravens 83 47.1 40.8 21.5 (10-6)
Jon Ryan Seahawks 65 45.6 40.8 15.3 (11-5)

As you can see, having a great punting game is not a complete solution to defensive woes, but is helpful in keeping opposing offenses from scoring in droves (unless you are the Saints, Chiefs or Jaguars, who had pretty horrible defenses brought on by inefficient schemes and injuries). Half of the Top 10 punting teams made the playoffs, finished with plus-10 wins, and half of their defenses allowed less than three touchdowns a game.

Those numbers are all well and good, but let's compare them to the numbers for the bottom 10 (who feature a familiar face as the best of the worst):

Punter Team Attempts Punt Average Punt Net Average Def Points Allowed (per game) Team Record
Mat McBriar Eagles 55 46.5 (yards) 36.5 (yards) 27.8 (4-12)
Brad Nortman Panthers 76 43 36.5 22.7 (7-9)
Reggie Hodges Browns 90 41.8 37.1 23 (5-11)
Sav Rocca Redskins 68 43.9 37.2 24.2 (10-6)
Michael Koenen Bucs 76 45.3 37.4 24.6 (7-9)
Nick Harris Lions 67 41.5 37.6 27.3 (4-12)
Drew Butler Steelers 77 43.8 37.8 19.6 (8-8)
Zoltan Mesko Patriots 60 43.1 37.9 20.7 (12-4)
Shawn Powell Bills 65 44 38.1 27.2 (6-10)
Robert Malone Jets 84 45.8 38.5 23.4 (6-10)

Of the Bottom 10, only three teams finished .500 or better, and the Eagles were not one of them. Mat McBriar was tied for the worst net average on punts in the league. Part of that had to do with injuries to premium special teams players like Colt Anderson and Akeem Jordan as well as Riley Cooper being elevated to starter while players on offense were injured. Still, if you compare the Top 10 to the Bottom 10, teams finishing in the Top 10 had a 30-percent higher chance of making the playoffs, 20-percent higher chance of finishing over .500 and a 40-percent chance of only allowing opposing offenses to score 20 points or less.

Taking those numbers into account, it is easy to see why adding a great leg to the punting game would be beneficial to the overall success of the Eagles defense and special teams as well as the overall team's success. While many felt that Chas Henry was extremely inconsistent, McBriar was not much of an improvement in anyway. In fact, Henry's 2012 numbers were nearly identical to McBriar's 2012 numbers. This is a team in flux, with a ton of cap space and high picks in each round of this year's draft. That is why it essential to not only take care of the team's glaring positional needs, but their less noticeable short-comings as well.

Of the punters available in free agency, only Donnie Jones of the Texans is really of value and would be considered an upgrade. Nick Harris and Reggie Hodges are both on the market, but offer marginal upgrades over McBriar. That could lead the Eagles to look for a punter in the draft or to pick up one as an undrafted free agent. Of the punting prospects in this year's draft, LSU's Brad Wing is likely the top guy. NFL Draft Scout projects Wing as a 5th round pick, which is likely a bit too rich for the Eagles taste. Along with Wing, Quinn Sharp of Oklahoma State and Jeff Locke of UCLA are among the other options.

Do you believe adding a punter should be a priority? Is keeping McBriar good enough for you?

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