Los Angeles Rams P Johnny Hekker is the best punter in the NFL.
In 2017, it wasn’t even close. Hekker might have put in the greatest season in NFL history for a punter breaking the record for most punts inside the 20-yard line with 51. For perspective, he did that in 98 punts. The only punter in the NFL who punted more than Hekker last year was San Francisco 49ers P Bradley Pinion; he had 28 punts inside the 20. Perhaps more amazing, Hekker punted the ball into the end zone...one time.
That’s just crazy.
Consider the top 10 punters in the NFL per the 2017 Football Outsiders Almanac:
It’s not that Hekker was the best punter in the NFL in 2016. It’s that he was the best by a mile.
Which begs the question: how valuable is it to have the best punter of his generation?
I’ve talked about the limited value of running backs for damn near a decade now largely because so many people maintain a misperception on their value. Nobody needs to have that discussion about tight ends or inside linebackers or special team specialists. We all know there’s limited value there. That’s why they’re not drafted very highly.
But Hekker’s special. He’s putting together a Hall of Fame caliber career. That’s why the Rams gave him the most guaranteed money of any special teamer in the history of the NFL with the six-year contract they gave him back in 2014.
The question is not if he’s worth it for the caliber of his play. He is. The question is how much the caliber of his play affects the outcome of games.
Just how much does it help to have the best punter in the NFL?
Chances of making the final roster (10/10)
Hekker’s in the same stratosphere as DT Aaron Donald in terms of position talent. It doesn’t matter what talent surrounds them or what’s at stake. They’re simply too good at what they do to be stopped.
The clear difference is that Hekker has only the Fisherball fake punt trickery as part of the passing game, the dominant aspect of the modern NFL. He’s not a regular part of the passing offense and he can’t affect opponents’ passing game.
So what effect will he have on the Rams in 2017? I don’t know, but I’m eager to find out.